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Designer of the city of Adelaide in South Australia, William Light (1786-1839), was in foster care as a child.

William Light was born in Kedah to Francis Light (1740-1794), founder of the British colony, Penang in 1786—now part of Malaysia. William’s mother was Martinha Rozells; she had five children with Francis and is likely to have had Portuguese and Asian heritage.

Francis Light wanted his eldest son to have an English education. Two years before his death from malaria, he wrote to his friend, George Doughty, in Suffolk and gave him charge over William, leaving it to him to organise suitable schooling.

After Francis died, Martinha Rozells appears not to have cared for her children, although she lived until 1822. William stayed on with the Doughty’s.

William was educated and treated as one of the family in Theberton and Martlesham [the Doughty properties], and his father remitted money to Doughty through his agent Fairlie in Calcutta [while there was money in the estate to do so]…The Doughty’s obviously fulfilled Francis Light’s trust in them and gave the boy a good education (Dutton & Elder 28).

In preparation for a career in the Navy, thirteen-year-old William Light became a “volunteer boy” on a frigate, meaning that, along with other boys usually of “poor and even destitute parents, often waifs and strays; sometimes orphans, and sometimes lads committed by the magistrate for petty misdemeanors”, he was expected “to do all the dirty and trivial work on the ship” (Dutton & Elder 31).

William Light had numerous adventures from then. He left the Navy, was interned in France but escaped, purchased a commission in the Army, became a junior staffer for the Duke of Wellington, purchased an infantry captaincy, became aide-de-camp to Sir Robert Wilson, got married, and traveled widely.

In 1836 William Light was appointed surveyor-general of South Australia. His job was to decide on ‘the best situation’ for the new city. By 1837 he had the site of Adelaide largely planned but quit his job the following year over a dispute.

The site of Adelaide, the grid pattern of city streets around six squares, and the provision of parklands which ring the city, are thanks to Light. A statue of him overlooks the city, and the suburb Colonel Light Gardens is named after him, as is the Light River in the mid-north of South Australia and Light Square in the city.


Dutton, Geoffrey and Elder, David. Colonel William Light – Founder of a City. Melbourne University Press, 1991.Elder,

David. “Light, William (1786-1839).” Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2 (1967).

Image available here.