Friday, 15 April 2011 15:58

Colonel William Light

There seems to have been quite a bit of misinformation lately about whether Colonel Light who founded Adelaide also laid out Christchurch.

Helen Gitsham has decided to research a little more deeply to get to the bottom of the misunderstanding that Colonel William Light founded and planned Christchurch in New Zealand as well as Adelaide. Apparently people believe this to be correct because the facts about Light can be found on the Wikipedia website and I quote, “Before Colonel Light designed Adelaide he designed Christchurch New Zealand”.

This information is totally incorrect and incomprehensible.

"Firstly, it is inconceivable that Light had the time or inclination to plan Christchurch before coming to South Australia. Col Light spent a number of years in the 1830’s either serving or in command of ships in the Mediterranean and particularly in Egypt where he served under the Pasha, Mohamed Ali. In November 1835 he resigned his post having been advised that he was appointed to the position of Surveyor-General in South Australia. He left England in his ship Rapid on 1 May 1836 and arrived in South Australia in August. From then on his time was totally taken up with surveying Adelaide and the surrounding areas as well as dealing with his failing health. After only three years in Adelaide, Light died of tuberculosis in October 1839.

Secondly, the chronological factor. In 1840 there were about 80 Europeans living in Canterbury New Zealand mostly on whaling stations on the Banks Peninsula. It was not until 1847 that Edward Gibbon Wakefield met with John Robert Godley to found a settlement in Canterbury based on the same principles of colonisation that South Australia had been settled. The “Port Cooper Plains” were considered as a site for a European settlement prior to 1848-49 but remained largely empty of Europeans until they were selected in 1848 as the site of the Canterbury settlement. A site for a city was found by a Captain Thomas in 1848 and in 1850 Edward Jollie, Surveyor completed his plans of survey for a new city called Christchurch.

By the time Canterbury was considered as a place to plan a city for European settlement, Light had been dead for 10 years!

The design of both Adelaide and Christchurch was the “standard” rectangular grid of colonial settlement common in the mid-1800’s, adopted for ease of survey and to facilitate land sales. Perhaps it is this commonality which has caused the misconception that Light planned both cities.

Further to Wikipedia, I found two more websites sites containing information that Light planned Christchurch and there are probably more. in its Voyeur magazine of 2004 cites Christchurch as being planned by Light. And, a New South Wales publication for NRMA which gave information about holidays in New Zealand, also stated that Christchurch was planned by Light.

There are many very good and accessible historical accounts of Light’s life that have credibility and plausibility without resorting to what appears to be hearsay and myth. If anyone can convince me that the above information is incorrect and that Light did in fact plan Christchurch, I would be more than happy to hear from you. But I would also like to know your sources."

Helen Gitsham email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Christchurch City Contextual History Overview; Christchurch City Council site:

Further reading:

  • The Life and Letters of Colonel William Light. M.P. Mayo, 1937
  • Founders and Pioneers of South Australia. A Grenfell Price, Mary Martin Books, 1978
  • Brief Journal and Australian Diaries, with an Introduction and Notes by David Elder, Adelaide, 1984
  • Colonel William Light – Founder of a City. Geoffrey Dutton and David Elder; Melbourne University Press 1991.


Read 6278 times Last modified on Wednesday, 30 October 2013 16:21