Colonel William Light

Recently more factual information has come to light on Colonel William Light, this Institute’s namesake, through the efforts of local historian Kelly Henderson.

Colonel William Light was known as one of the founders of Adelaide and its first Surveyor General having designated the city’s site and designed the town plan.  He was also an accomplished artist and entrepreneur.

Kelly Henderson has been able to confirm that William Light was born at Kuala Kedah on 27th April 1786 in what is now Malaysia to a British father and Eurasian mother. William’s father, Francis Light established a colony at Penang Island.

Importantly Ms Henderson has been able to confirm that an 1838 cadastral map of Adelaide was a Light original (most of his early work was thought to have been destroyed by a fire).  ‘This priceless manuscript map demonstrates the complexity of Light’s task. His topographical and artistic genius created a spatial layout that has proven to be inspiring, resilient and enduring’ she said.

‘As well as the mapping of the company owned town acres, there is a detailed miniature elevation of Mt Lofty, accurate delineation of Adelaide’s water courses and location and distribution of grasslands and forested areas of the Adelaide Plain. The roads align perfectly with Adelaide’s main transport routes today….it is four times more accurate than the British Army could produce at the time.’

In a series of lectures as part of South Australia’s History Month, Kelly Henderson has created a picture of Light’s early life and travels and his contribution to the Iberian War effort. During his early life he travelled widely throughout India, Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Sicily and Egypt. ‘He had observed great art and architecture, and painted landscapes, seascapes, peoples and antiquities with accuracy and sensitivity.’ During the war in Spain and Portugal Light’s maps and proposed routes made a significant difference in the ultimate success of the war effort.

Finally Ms Henderson believes that a garden Light encountered in Spain while in the army left a lasting impression on the young soldier and found its way into the design of Adelaide. The garden at La Granja de San Ildefonso’s ‘Las Ocho Calles’ or the ‘eight streets’ has a pathway layout similar to South Adelaide and its squares.

(taken from an article by Miles Kemp, The Advertiser 22nd April 2017)

We at The William Light Institute are proud to be associated with Colonel William Light,  an outstanding contributor to the beautiful city of Adelaide


Greg Black