Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Light, William

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LIGHT, WILLIAM (1784–1838), colonel, surveyor-general of South Australia, and founder of the city of Adelaide, was born in 1784. His father (probably the Captain Francis Light whose account of the island of Jung Salang is in Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 29210, ff. 217, 225) was commander of an Indian ‘country-ship’ or free trader, who married the daughter of the Malayan king of Qedah, receiving with her as dowry the island of Penang or Pulo Penang. The island, renamed at Light's suggestion Prince of Wales Island, was made over to the East India Company, who in 1785 bound themselves by a treaty, ‘to last so long as the sun and moon shall give light,’ to pay the king of Qedah an annual sum of six thousand dollars. This payment was increased in 1800 to ten thousand dollars, on the cession of what has since been known as the province of Wellesley, on the mainland opposite. Young Light received a liberal education in England, where he made influential friends, and, it is said, was an occasional guest of the Prince of Wales (George IV). On 5 May 1808, in his twenty-fifth year, he obtained a cornetcy in the 4th dragoons, in which he became lieutenant in 1809. He served with that regiment in the Peninsula, and as he spoke French and Spanish fluently and was a good draughtsman, he was much employed on intelligence duties. He obtained a company in the 3rd buffs in 1814, passed through various regiments, retiring from the 13th foot as captain and brevet-major in 1821. He accompanied Sir Robert Thomas Wilson to Spain in 1823, to take part in the abortive Spanish revolutionary movement. Afterwards he accepted employment in the navy of Mehemet Ali, pasha of Egypt, where he made the acquaintance of Captain John (afterwards Sir John) Hindmarsh [q. v.], who was also in the pasha's service. When the colony of South Australia was established, and Hindmarsh was chosen governor, Light was appointed surveyor-general, and set out in advance to select a site for the city of Adelaide. He left England with his survey staff in the Rapid on 1 May, and arrived out on 30 Aug. 1836. Hindmarsh arrived on 28 Dec. 1836, and three days later the site of the new city was decided upon. In the course of the following year, through disputes with the acting commissioners, Light resigned his post, and became head of the firm of Light, Firmin & Co., which undertook the survey of Port Adelaide, the brig Rapid being lent by the government for the purpose. Light died in 1838, soon after the arrival of the new governor, Colonel George Gawler [q. v.] His remains lie in a vault beneath an obelisk erected by a few friends, the earliest colonists of South Australia. His dying wish was to be regarded as the founder of Adelaide, and a written statement to that effect was, it is understood, placed in his coffin.

Light published ‘A Trigonometrical Survey of Adelaide,’ ‘Views of Adelaide,’ and ‘A Plan of Adelaide.’

[Balfour's Indian Cycl.; Philippart's Roy. Mil. Cal. 1820; Heaton's Australian Biog. under ‘Light’ and ‘South Australia;’ Brit. Mus. Catalogues.]

H. M. C.