Colonel William Light (1786-1839) was appointed as Surveyer-General by the Board of Colonisation Commissioners in 1836. Light’s military service had given him experience in surveying; he was widely travelled and also a skilled artist. He had been considered for the role of Governor for the new colony, but (Sir) John Hindmarsh was selected instead.
Colonel Light arrived in South Australia in August 1836 charged with the task of choosing a site for the first colonial settlement and defining land allotments. After extended exploration along the coast, Light chose an inland location almost 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the sea on a fertile plain at the foot of Mount Lofty. Although other settlers, including Hindmarsh, questioned his choice, Light was steadfast, writing later in his Brief Journal,
'The reasons that led me to fix Adelaide where it is I do not expect to be generally understood or calmly judged of at present … I leave it to posterity … to decide whether I am entitled to praise or to blame'.
Having selected the site, Light and his surveying team set about carrying out their commission to survey 150 square miles of land (390 km) into sections, including the creation of 1042 one acre ‘town’ lots to form the principal settlement. Light’s Plan of Adelaide provided the blueprint for the establishment of the City of Adelaide. It was the first settlement in Australia to be planned from the beginning and retains today the key elements of Light’s design: a central grid one mile square, three smaller grids to the North angled to the topography of the Torrens River Valley, six town squares and an encircling belt of open space described as “Park Lands” the first dedicated public park lands in the world.
Light’s survey of Adelaide had been completed in just two months, but continued conflict with Governor Hindmarsh saw Light resign his post in 1838. He was already suffering ill health as he succumbed to tuberculosis. He died in 1839, just two years after completing his plan for Adelaide, a poor and broken man.
And yet, of all the earliest colonists, Colonel William Light left the most indelible mark on the City of Adelaide. Over time, his achievements and the genius of his design have become widely recognised. He is the first and only person to be buried within the square mile of the city of Adelaide, in the square which bears his name. The original monument in Light Square was replaced in 1905 with the one we see today including a mounted surveyor’s theodolite.