Sunday, 14 June 2015

Sir Thomas Picton and The Injustice of Empire by Nickglais

                                  Sir Thomas Picton's Picture in Carmarthen Courtroom

At the beginning of the 21st Century we saw the bizarre phenomena in Britain of a nostalgia for the British Empire promoted by Michael Gove of the Conservative Party who as Education Secretary at the Hay on Wye Literary Festival waxed enthusiastic about Niall Ferguson's history defending the British Empire as a road to modernity and wanted every school teacher to tell this "wonderful" story.

It just so happened that Niall Ferguson's defence of the British Empire fitted perfectly with his neo-conservative defence of the American Empire in the post 911 world and hence Niall Ferguson was jettisoned into a successful literary orbit.

Michael Gove who has now moved from Education to Justice in the new Conservative government of 2015 - so it is opportune to look at the question of Justice and Empire.

This month of June 2015 witnesses the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo at which one of the "heroes" of Empire Sir Thomas Picton who was killed in battle of Waterloo resulted in his being immortalised by Victorian England with memorials throughout the Empire and a bust in St Paul's Cathedral in London and another monument in Carmarthen - Wales.

What manner of man was this hero of Empire Sir Thomas Picton, let us look at his commanders comments first :

The Duke of Wellington said of Sir Thomas Picton

"I found him a rough foul-mouthed devil as ever lived, but he always behaved extremely well; no man could do better in different services I assigned to him, and I saw nothing to confirm what Miranda had said of his ambition"

Source :

Philip Henry Stanhope, Notes of Conversations with the Duke of Wellington, 1831- 1851, Oxford University Press, 1938, p.69

Furthermore Wellington noted :

"It would be impossible to deny that a very strong dislike towards the General was prevalent; his conduct on the island of Trinidad ... and the torture inflicted by his order on Luis Calderon, a torture which , by the way, had been given up in our army as being worse than flogging, had impressed all ranks with an unfavourable opinion of the man "

Source: William Gratton, Adventures of the Connaught Rangers from 1808 to 1814.

It is also possible the soldiers had heard of the execution of Hugh Gallacher an Irish artilleryman who served in Trinidad who was executed without even the pretense of a miltary trial by Thomas Picton

So what was it that happened in Trinidad that made The name of Thomas Picton a by word for injustice and Empire.

Let Bridget Brereton History Professor at the University of the West Indies inform us :

"I'll start with Luisa Calderon, because she lived in the very early 1800s. She was what was known as a "free coloured": a mixed-race person, daughter of a freed "mulatto" woman of Venezuelan origin.

She wasn't enslaved; she lived with another mixed-race person, Pedro Ruiz, a Port of Spain merchant.

In 1801, when she was about 14, or maybe even younger, she was accused of stealing money from Ruiz's shop. Ruiz himself accused her, and claimed she was acting in collusion with the man he thought was her new lover, Carlos Gonzalez.

Luisa was first examined by the governor, Thomas Picton, and then handed over to the chief magistrate of the town, St Hilaire Begorrat, Picton's close ally.

After she spent some days in the town jail, Begorrat tried and failed to get a "confession" from her.

He recommended that Luisa should be tortured, and Picton authorised it.

In fact, it seems clear enough that there was no robbery, that Luisa and Gonzalez had been framed by a jealous Ruiz"

The Case of Luisa Calderon might never have been known but for the visit to Trinidad by William Fullerton as part of a government commission into the future of the island.

A previous visitor to the prison McCallum describes the horrors of the prison in Trinidad as follows :

"In the lower department, which was like a hen coop .. were lodged no less than one hundred negroes, with large ugly chains riveted above their necks, waists and to my astonishment several British seamen confined to the same filthy hole.

In the ajacent cells were lodged about thirty or more poor Africans of all ages, accused of withcraft and necromancy. All these unfortunate creatures were schackled and rivetted to the ground, much exhausted with long and tedious confinement and extreme heat in a dirty hole"

McCallum - Travels p 174

Bridget Brereton continues :

William Fullarton, and his wife brought Luisa to Britain in 1803, and supported her there for several years—the court case involving her took a long time and of course her testimony was needed.

People's love for scandal being as great 200 years ago as today, Picton's allies spread rumours that Luisa gave birth to Fullarton's child when she was in Scotland. (Fullarton sued, and the case was going on when he died; Mrs Fullarton continued to look after Luisa in Britain).

More generally, the rumour was that she was a prostitute whom the Fullartons introduced into "polite society" in Britain.

Her testimony concluded with exhibiting the permanent marks of torture in form of a "seam or callus formed on both wrists"

Luisa did give evidence at Picton's trial in the Court of the King's Bench in 1806; he was found guilty.

But a retrial was ordered, and he was eventually acquitted in 1808.

Thomas Picton was a Tory and a fervent supporter of the Slave Trade and Slavery he borrowed and invested personally in land and slaves in Trinidad to make his fortune.

William Fullerton was liberal Whig influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment and an opponent of the Slave Trade and was to spend much of his later life exposing the barbarity of the Thomas Picton rule of terror in Trinidad leading to ultimate conviction of Thomas Picton for the torture of Luisa Calderon - but while a guilty verdict was returned no sentence followed and the script was flipped in 1808 making Thomas Picton the hero and Luisa Calderon the villain- she died in poverty in Trinidad.

However we should understand that both Thomas Picton and William Fullerton were for Empire and Imperialism - Thomas Picton with Slaves and William Fullerton with settler colonialists - Fullerton discussed with McCallum bringing Highland Scots from the Clearances to settle in Trinidad - their Whigism and Liberalism was racist but in a different way from Thomas Picton.

Luisa Calderon was used and abused by Thomas Picton the Tory Imperialist and also to lesser degree by William Fullerton in the battle for Whig and Tory Versions of the British Empire.

The tortured fourteen year old girl Luisa Calderon was to die in poverty in her thirties back in Trinidad and Sir Thomas Picton picture was to hang in a British Courtroom as a symbol of British Justice or as my title implies the INJUSTICE OF EMPIRE.

See also :

Also Read : Scandal of Colonial Rule- Power and Subversion in the British Atlantic during the Age of Revolution by James Epstein

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