Level 3 Mortlock Wing State Library of South Australia North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000

Colonel William Light - portrait and relics

Colonel William Light (1786-1839) was responsible for choosing the site and laying out the City of Adelaide in 1836 and has been called the "Founder of Adelaide".  The Society is fortunate to have a portrait by artist George A J Webb, Light's surveyor's dumpy level and relics salvaged from his cottage.

Col Light Adelaide Map 7th Aug 1837

Colonel William Light was gazetted Surveyor General of the new colony of South Australia on 4th February 1836. He was officially given the responsibility of selecting the site for the new capital, although Governor Hindmarsh favoured a site at Port Lincoln and this conflict was on going. Sailing from England in early May 1836 Light commanded the vessel Rapid for the voyage to South Australia. Light was a man of many talents and had served in both the Royal Navy and the British and Egyptian armies. He was an accomplished artist and sketched and painted the places he visited throughout his life including many landscapes of South Australia.

By late December 1836 Light had selected the present site for Adelaide in spite of criticisms that it was too far from the port - but the presence of a good water supply was a major factor.

Sadly, due to ongoing disagreements, Light "was deserted and betrayed by his employers and so called friends and was left to die neglected, unhonoured and impoverished " (Mayo, 1937).*

Copy of Colonel Light's map of Adelaide - 7 August 1837

Light portrait

Colonel Light's portrait is by George Alfred John Webb (1861–1949) an English painter who had a prominent career in Australian portraiture. This image of Light was probably done in 1904 well after Light's death. It was purchased by Hon. John Lewis (President RGSASA* 1913-1920) who presented it to the Society.

*The name at the time

Col Light Dumpy Level Detail

Light's dumpy level was an instrument used to record levels of the ground surface at different locations. This dumpy level is a Troughton and Sims Improved Level, 14", [dumpy level] housed in a wooden box, bearing a brass plaque marked Light, with accessories including, screw cap, plumb bob, a black glass filter, and an eyepiece. Wooden box is inscribed ‘Light’.

RGSSA Catalogue numbers- Portrait R47 (hanging on the southern wall of RGSSA Library).

Dumpy level R49 & 49A D (Located on a glass cabinet in the RGSSA Library)

While most of Light's possessions were destroyed when fire consumed his hut in the parklands on 22nd January 1839, some relics were salvaged in the 1920's from Light's cottage at Thebarton where he died 6 October 1839.

  •  Three bricks known as 'sloppy bricks' hand-made in wooden moulds.

  •  Shingle made of Tasmanian String-bark hardwood, part of the roof. 
  •  Piece of corrugated iron of type known as 'Gospel Oak'