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Colonel Light Room @ Adelaide Town Hall

Home > Adelaide > Free | Exhibitions | Art
by Carney (subscribe)
The history of South Australian Founding is my passion, Adelaide City and the surrounding landscape and towns is the setting for the adventure, more on weekend notes no doubt!
Published November 10th 2012
Treat yourself to a guided tour of what is arguably South Australia's single most secret treasure trove - the William Light Collection housed in the Adelaide Town Hall, King William.

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Light was the Founder of the City of Adelaide and Surveyor General of South Australia from his appointment in early 1836 until his spectacular achievements of 1837 were complete, to be betrayed and cast asunder by tyrannical public servants and his disloyal assistant, George Strickland Kingston. Although recognised as a Colonel after the Spanish Campaign led by Robert Wilson, its was the Napoleonic War (Peninsula Campaign) where he rose to the rank of Captain and gained respect and fame. A brave soldier, artist, linguist and traveller, these skills were paramount now as he worked as aid-de-camp to a General Wellsley, who went on to become Duke or Lord Wellington, another character in the South Australia Story.

Civic Collection - Adelaide City Council


Highlights of the collection include unique mini portraits of key characters in the earlier 007 life soldiering and travelling Europe, and the romantic and key chapter with wife Mary (Napier clan). This collection paints a vivid portrait of Great Britain at the time. South Australia was conceived in a cold dark Newgate prison cell by the schemer and dreamer Edward Gibbon Wakefield, as significant a character as Light in the story of South Australia.

In the midst of the drama unfolding back then in early Adelaide, the January 22nd configuration of his hut after Commissioner Fishers was already ablaze, wiped out most of Light's personal collection, planning notes and sketches, leaving him broke and devastated. Also experiencing the advanced stages of tuberculosis and stressed over the dispute his decision had created., deeply insulted by the overtones of the Governor, his survey assistant and what he regarded as the incompetent armchair colonists running the show blindly from England.

And yet his support was overwhelming to prevail and win his final battle of fixing the site of Adelaide where she now is today, preventing what would have been a dreadful and costly calamity, the moving of the settlement to Encounter Bay - one of five charges upon which poor Hindmarsh was recalled to answer back in London!

Light was an honourable gentleman who fought over forty five military battles and saw no horizon on his adventures, except to fulfil the dream of emulating his father and one day to found a free settlement in a new colony somewhere far away - born himself in Penang, the son of a trader and governor, his mother a princess of that realm.

Freedom, land, a new life as an assisted emigrant or to those like Light and the early founders, a gamble on a romantic adventure which did pay off despite the casualties which will occur when military men, dreamers, bankers and investors set sail to a foreign land on a wing, prayer and real estate plan courtesy of the commissioners.

Civic Collection - Adelaide City Council


Draw number 1 (not rigged), was the Theberton section where he lived his last days with the Gandy family who accompanied him along on the adventure. Maria Gandy is an exotic twist in the tale, his exotic mistress who evidently caused wagging tongues in the Governor's camp, of course he was not divorced from Mary, but she was happy, as was he, up until the showdown in Adelaide.

Civic Collection - Adelaide City Council


There is even a portrait of Mehemet Ali, the Pasha who ruled Egypt at the time, and hired Light to recruit retired British Navy, and he and Hindmarsh delivered the biggest steam warship, the Steam Ship Nile. These were dramatic times so it was a momentous event in 1836 for news to arrive, and neither at this point knew they would be Governor and Surveyor General of the new colony.

The collection is beautifully displayed in the opulent William Light Room. Please contact the Adelaide City Corporation to organise or dovetail into a scheduled tour of the Town Hall, including the William Light Room.

Surveyor also of the country sections we know so well and which reflect his own history but not so well his ability to spell - Lyndoche and Barossa, managed by Company Manager John Mclaren hired by George Fife Angus, the country delights surveyed by Light trigonometrically, if that is even a word. All stemming and fanning from the first peg in Red Kangaroo Dreaming, which became Victoria Square. A fantastic achievement in any day, but the story of how it emerged, still surrounds us today, thanks to the city and these collections.

Civic Collection - Adelaide City Council


A toast is made annually to the Colonel and the good old days of then, and every one is remembered and honoured for whatever unique role they played in the story of Adelaide's founding, and we all moved on.

The Civiic Collection is well worth a view if you are remotely interested in the early history of Australia and the first convict free settlement. It's a good reminder of how much it cost us all over the centuries and are we really free or better off than our cousins the convict settlers, us!

Enjoy the visit and the remarkable collection.
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Where: 25 Pirie Street, Adelaide SA 5000
Your Comment
Fascinating wish I had done this while in Adelaide.
by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (score: 3|4660) 1781 days ago
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