Thanks to the vision of Colonel William Light, Adelaide is a wonderfully laid-out city, with abundant gardens and parks, remarkably wide streets, and attractive squares every few blocks. Colonel Light chose the city’s site in 1836, and soon handsome, imposing buildings began growing up along the sweeping boulevards and amid the parks he had mandated.
Born in Malaya, Light spoke several languages and was a gifted artist. His life might best be described as unconventional, with more numerous career changes than were common at the time, a number of marriages, and a fair bit of international wandering. However, he distinguished himself in the military on numerous occasions, and most especially while attached to the illustrious Duke of Wellington. He was also very bright.
When John Hindmarsh (with whom Light had served in Egypt) became Governor of South Australia, he recommended Light for the position of Surveyor General—which led to Light’s involvement with the founding of Adelaide. In addition to determining the location of Adelaide and laying it out, Light named numerous locations in South Australia, including the Barossa Valley (which would become one of South Australia’s premier wine regions), after a valley in Spain where he had fought while in the military.
Colonel Light’s brilliance was not universally appreciated. In fact, he found himself coming under increasingly heavy criticism, which escalated into attacks. In his own defense, he wrote, “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 blame.”
Sadly, Light did not live long enough to see his enemies’ opinions discounted. He died of tuberculosis in 1839. But even at his death, he was acknowledged as the founder of Adelaide—and his funeral procession indicated that, though his foes may have been vocal, there were hundreds who admired him. Today, pretty much everyone who visits Adelaide considers Light’s plans to have been inspired. It is a truly lovely city.
The picture below is of Victoria Square, named in early 1837 for a princess who would soon be England’s Queen. It is one of five squares Light placed in downtown Adelaide, and is the center of the city’s one-square-mile grid. Both historic and modern buildings can be seen beyond the Three Rivers Fountain, which represents the three rivers from which Adelaide gets its water.