Light’s Vision Obscured…

Porter & Cane

Light’s Vision may be relocated for the second time due to development encroaching upon the Adelaide Parklands (Advertiser September 21 Michael McGuire).

The statue of the first Surveyor General of South Australia Colonel William Light graced King William Street from 1906 until 1936. In that year Adelaide City Councillor A.C Myers and supporters voted for its relocation to Montefiore Hill to coincide with the park beautification and the states centenary. Now as the sports stadium and lights tower in the background it appears Lights future is anything but secure.

I appreciate Michael McGuire bringing this news to the attention of the public and implore the Adelaide City Corporation to pause for a moment and consider the evidence in favor of leaving the monument at this present location of Montefiore Hill.

Where does one start in the case defending heritage and seeking to halt the powerful corporations that have robbed the City of the once famous parkland? A brief history of the tumultuous founding history and indeed the rare visionary nature of the gentleman in question may serve the purpose of reminding present generations of the importance of the monument and the relevance of its present location.

Governor Hindmarsh: Vested interest


The story of Colonel Light and the role he played in the states early founding is quite remarkable.  His achievement in survey and the challenges he faced in fixing the present site of Adelaide must be seen in the context of the terrible dust he had with the first Governor John Hindmarsh. The Governor like the Surveyor General was a first rate Napoleonic War hero but history shows his abilities in the field of civil service were sadly wanting. Under the thrall of his private secretary and newspaper editor George Stevenson, he was at the center of a conspiracy to undermine the Colonel, his desire to relocate the city to the treacherous location of Encounter Bay.

Stevenson controlled the Press and the Governor

This action can be linked to the early failure of the settlement which saw it descend into a state of chaos and then bankruptcy. Colonel Light and his allies did finally prevail but it cost the Colonel his health and his small personal fortune that was sacrificed for the city and future generations. History does not recall too well the circumstances which prompted the recently knighted Commander Hindmarsh to act in such a destructive way, but ironically it was the often repeated theme of vested interests clashing with clear thinking and proper planning of what was a radical experiment in colonisation.

The relationship between the Governor prior to settlement with the South Australia Company in hindsight was far too intimate. The Governor had borrowed cash from the Company chairman George Fife Angus and through the controversial mechanism of Special Surveys had himself earmarked an investment in what was known as District E or Encounter Bay. Proximity to the Murray River mouth and Lake Alexandrina saw many greedy investors postulate huge profits from the envisaged steamship trade that would hopefully enable access to the future agricultural produce of inland Australia. And yet the Colonel saw the dangers immediately and refused to budge on what history soon reveals what was a sound and well thought out decision.

John Morphett, Lights closest ally

In the first public meeting held at Glenelg (Holdfast Bay) in January 1837 the duplicity of both the Governor and George Stevenson is revealed and fortunately the veto power of the land agent magnate John Morphett was sufficient to put the matter to rest in favor of the Colonel…for the time being. The debate however continued largely on account of press manipulation and then a further ironic twist confirms that which was spelled out clearly in the first weeks of Lights survey.

While the first Governor was recalled when the Commissioners back at home in London learned of his transgressions, there was no stopping the mischief of George Stevenson in attempting to throw further doubt on the Colonels decision and the encumbency of the second Governor Colonel George Gawler was almost as scandalous as his predecessor.  In failing health Colonel Light stuck to his guns and eventually his decision to fix Adelaide in the its present location was vindicated and yet the record shows a conspiracy against the Napoleonic war hero: an embarrassing blemish on the history of the Colony which was a rather radical and perhaps over ambitious experiment.

Colonel Light, betrayed by South Australia

The first monument to the Colonel designed by his Deputy Surveyor Charles Kingston lasted just a few decades due to lack of a damp course and poor selection of materials. Light Square is the most important monument as the Colonel has the honor of being the only European settler to be buried beneath the City of Adelaide square mile. At his request a copper plaque with the words ‘Adelaide City Founder’ was placed on his chest.

While the dispute between the Governors camp and those supporting Colonel Light was a severe drain on the colony matters only worsened for the Surveyor General after he dispatched his troublesome deputy George Strickland Kingston back to England to access further resources for the survey.



George Kingston betrayed his superior

Aide to Governor Gawler, James Hawker, recounts the betrayal of the Colonel by the South Australian Board of Commissioners Secretary Rowland Hill in league with the rogue Deputy Surveyor George Kingston who upon his return to the settlement when the plan of the duo was revealed by Resident Commissioner James Hurtle Fisher. Upon revelation of the unsavoury plan of these two gentlemen, in a show of support the survey team resigned en masse although the plan to force the Colonels resignation was a dubious success and spelled more trouble for the Colony.

The drowning of the Colonies first Judge John Jeffcott at Encounter Bay and the arrival of the famed Overlander Charles Sturt saw the end of the nonsense talk about Encounter Bay, but the whole saga left the Surveyor General devastated and he died the following year writing his own epitaph.

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. My enemies, however, by disputing their validity in every particular, have done me the good service of fixing the whole of the responsibility upon me. I am perfectly willing to bear it; and I leave it to posterity, and not to them, to decide whether I am entitled to praise or to blame.

A large part of Lights vision was indeed the expansive parklands which surrounded the square mile town, and now ironically they have been overshadowed by development, and the Colonels statue it appears must be moved with the times to another place that will not be at odds with the proud statue. As the parklands diminish its hard to guess where the monument will next be moved, or should it simply be buried or demolished in keeping with the earlier history surrounding the rare gentleman who fatefully dedicated his last years like his father Francis of Penang, to a new and convict free settlement in South Australia?

Theberton Cottage – Home of the Surveyor General built by the Gandy brothers – demolished in 1926 due to lack of maintenance funds. Colonel Lights final resting place where he departed this world, named after his childhood home of Theberton Hall, Suffolk, England.

The monument of Theberton Cottage demolished

In conclusion it is my belief the monuments to the first Surveyor General Colonel William Light should remain standing in the location suggested by the Pioneers Association and made possible by Councillor Myers. Obscured or not Lights Vision must remain as a sober reminder of the good work of this brave and level headed hero, indeed the Founder of Adelaide.