Buried in the City – Colonel William Light
Born in Malaya in 1786, William Light was the second son of Captain Francis Light and his Princess Bride, Martinha Rozells.
William spent the earliest part of his life at Penang, but at the age of six, was moved to England to be educated in Suffolk by Charles Doughty.
Light volunteered in the Navy in 1799, and left two years later with the title Midshipman. After which he spent some time in France and then Calcutta, before returning to Europe in 1806. In 1808 he purchased a cornetcy* in the 4th Dragoons, and was soon promoted to Lieutenant.
Light was able to speak many languages, showed great tact, and accuracy in his reporting. This held him in great stead with his superior officers, and often led to him being chosen to be an intermediary in hostile negotiations.
In 1812, Light was chosen to become a junior officer at Wellingtons headquarters where he would be employed on mapping, liaison duties and reconnaissance.
In 1814, Light purchased a “Captaincy of the Infantry” and spent time travelling Europe, before returning to full service working in the Channel Islands, Scotland and Ireland.
Seven years later in 1821, William Light quit the army with the rank of Major.
In 1824, Light married the Third Duke of Richmonds daughter, Mary Bennet. The newlyweds travelled extensively across Europe. Later, Light bought a yacht and sailed to Italy, then around the Mediterranean. Light visited the Egyptian city of Alexandria around 1832, at the time the economic centre of Egypt. He became friends with the powerhouse Mohammed Ali, who was rising to power in the country and would lay the foundations for modern Egypt. In 1834 Light would captain the paddle steamer “Nile” which was on its way from England to join the Egyptian Navy. The Nile would be taken over by John Hindmarsh, who would later be given a letter by Light, introducing him to Sir Charles Napier, who had recently resigned as Governor of the proposed settlement of South Australia. Hindmarsh would go on to replace Napier in that position.
In 1836, William Light was appointed Surveyor-General of South Australia. With his chosen staff, he set off for Australia in the ship “Rapid” whilst his deputy, George Kingston, set out five weeks earlier in another ship called “Cygnet”.
Light arrived at Kangaroo Island in 1836, and visited Encounter Bay soon after, which he rejected as being a main port for the new colony. Light began to explore the coastline, and Rapid Bay caught his eye, he sailed north seeking harbours reported previously by explorers Captain Collet Barker and Captain John Jones, but to no avail. Soon the Port Adelaide River was found. Light as impressed with the location, and earmarked it as the spot for his future settlement, but first he had to follow instruction and sail to Port Lincoln to assess the possibility of that Port being the main capitol of the colony.
Light returned to the Port Adelaide River on December 18th 1836. The site chosen was 9.6km from the ocean, and this did not please Governor Hindmarsh at all, who then set about to get the capitol site changed to Encounter Bay or Port Lincoln.
Light pressed ahead with his survey of the area, and had laid out a plan of 1042 acres by March 1837, plus twenty-nine section of Port Adelaide, as a means to pacify Hindmarsh.
Light knew he was hard against it, the survey he been contracted to undertake was going to take many years to complete, not the few months he had been allotted when taking the contract on, so he wrote to his superiors asking for more men, equipment and time.
His requests were rejected, and his survey was to be replaced with a faster method. If Light refused to do this, he would be put on the lesser task of coastal examination. Light promptly refused, and resigned his position, which did not improve his ailing health, for at the time Light’s health was beginning to fail considerably.
By January 1839, William Lights health had waned, he was not able to complete a 10 hour horse ride to survey land north of Adelaide, He returned to his temporary accommodation, only
to have it burn down the following day. The fire consumed a life long collection of books, journals, maps and drawings.
Light then moved into a house he was having built, named Theberton, he was poor in wealth and health, and survived by selling sketches.
In May 1839, Light, despite his failing health, took part in the search for a northern route to the Murray. He returned to his home with a sever fever, and died of tuberculosis on October 6th 1839.
Colonel William Light was buried in Adelaide, in Light Square. Governor Hindmarsh had a monument built over his grave, but unfortunately it didn’t stand the test of time. A new monument was erected in 1905.
A statue of William Light, designed by Birnie Rhind stands on Montefiore Hill, overlooking the city he founded.
*Cortency – the office, rank, or commission of a cornet