Lt General Sir Thomas Picton

16th January 2015

Picton birthplace in Hill Street, Haverfordwest

Picton birthplace in Hill Street, Haverfordwest

Born in in 1758, in what was for many years, The Dragon Hotel in Hill Street, Haverfordwest, Picton was part of an old family that had long had military traditions. His long standing position as a hero who fell at Waterloo has more recently been challenged and he is viewed as a somewhat controversial figure.

Picton portrait by Martin Archer Shee

Picton portrait by Martin Archer Shee

After joining the army, much of his early life was spent unemployed and on half pay, at the family home of Poyston Hall. From 1794 to 1797 he took part in the on going campaign in the West Indies at the close of which, he was made governor of Trinidad.

He was seen as a very able administrator but extremely harsh, believing in the policy of ‘let them hate us as long as they fear us.’ It is important to recognise that he was operating within the conventions of the time when hanging or flogging were not unusual.

A fourteen year old girl named Luisa Calderon, involved in theft, was tortured in 1801 to find out more detail of the crime and the document that allowed the torture was signed by Picton. Those opposed to Picton, especially William Fullerton, a co-comissioner of Trinidad, who was to some extent an enlightened individual trying to get better treatment for indigenous people, reported his actions and a court case followed in 1804.

All of those invoved including Luisa were brought to London for the trial where newspaper reporters described her a ‘comely’ or ‘becoming’ young woman.

Although found guilty, Picton appealed immediately and the case dragged on until 1808. The earlier decision was reversed but no real resolution was ever reached by the court. During the years when the trial took place, Picton was pointed at in the street or in the theatre with people hissing or booing and he became known as ‘The Tyrant of Trinidad’. This was after all, happening at the same time as the Act was finally passed that outlawed, if not slavery itself (which was abolished in 1833) but the slave trade.

Between 1810 and 1814 Picton was engaged in the major campaigns of the Peninsula War in Spain, proving himself invaluable and adding to his reputation. His consistent bravery and able command of ‘The Fighting 3rd’ division was a major factor in driving the French out of Spain.

In 1815, with Naploeon’s escape from Elba, Wellington asked Picton to take command of the 5th Division. He did so on condition that he would be answerable to no one except Wellington. By this point, he was fifty seven years old and revealed to fellow officers that he had difficulty sleeping whenever major conflict actions were due to take place. He also suggested that he didn’t think he would survive.

Waterloo, on the 18th June, was one of the most important battles fought in Europe. Early in the battle, Picton was leading a bayonet charge to repulse a French charge when he was shot in the temple. He is buried in St Pauls Cathedral.