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National Museum of Australia

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Colonel William Light's writing box and accessories


Colonel William Light's writing box and accessories

Object information

Physical description

A timber writing box featuring brass bound edges, recessed brass handles on both ends and a brass plaque set into the lid, with an inscription which reads "Presented to / Col. William Light / as a Token of Esteem / from the Officers / H.M.S. Rapid". The box also features on the exterior left side a drawer which can only be opened when the lid of the box is open. When open the becomes a platfrom with a hinged sloping lid which opens to reveal two timber, blue velvet covered writing platforms, both of which have textile hinges which have torn away from the box frame. The largest writing platform which folds back to rest in the opened lid of the box bears an illegible hand written inscription on the underside. At one end of the writing box are four compartments, of which the long compartment in the middle features a concave insert which when lifted out reveals its contents; four metal fountain pen nibs, three sections of writing lead, one rubber eraser and eight pieces of red sealing wax. Another compartment features a removable timber lid with a small white handle, which lifts to reveal its contents; one silver coloured metal earring stud and one yellowed rubber earring back. The other two compartments are empty.

Statement of significance

The Colonel William Light collection comprises a cedar and brass bound campaign writing box, with a brass plaque on the lid engraved with the inscription 'Presented to/Col William Light/as a token of Esteem/from the Officers of/HMS Rapid'. The writing box is a rare artefact connected to the foundation of Adelaide and to the life of Colonel William Light.

Colonel William Light (1786 - 1839), Surveyor and Founder of the City of Adelaide, arrived in South Australia onboard HMS Rapid on the 26 August 1836. Light had been instructed to explore and survey the coast of South Australia to select a suitable place for the first settlement. Light chose the lightly wooded and well watered plains of the east coast of St Vincent Gulf as a suitable site for settlement, placing the capital of Adelaide 6 miles inland.The location of the capital so far from port was the subject of bitter critisism and at least three attempts were made in the first year to move it. Light resigned from his position in June 1838 due to compromises over the accuracy of the surveying; a few months later he lost most of his possessions in a house fire. Light, an ill man was then nursed by his mistress Maria Gandy at his Thebarton home until he died in October 1839. Light was buried in Light Square in Adelaide.

Object information

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