Sunday morning at Fort Picton, Laventille
After long wanting to visit this historic site, I finally had the pleasure of heading up to the fort this morning.
Picton was a brutal man who governed Trinidad with an iron fist, including erecting gallows outside his house at the corner of Charlotte Street and Marine Square where he did not hesitate to hang those he deemed in transgression. Most infamously he was tried in London in 1806 for torturing Louisa Caulderon at the Royal Jail in Port of Spain.
I've collected some information about him below written by Geoffrey MacClean, Prof. Bridget Brereton and Freddie Kissoon to supplement these photographs.
"In 1797 governor Thomas Picton was left with a very small garrison to hold Trinidad against the Spaniards and Republican French who belatedly realized that they had lost a strategic prize in Trinidad. Picton's problem was how to effectively defend his capital without building a multitude of forts around it and to do this he looked at the Laventille Hills overlooking Port of Spain.
The Martello Tower was forty feet high, commanding not only the route along the Laventille Hills, but also the vital road, the town of Port of Spain, the flanks and rear of Fort San Andres and it could also command the inner harbour in support of the Mole Fort. On the upper level of what was effectively the roof, Picton mounted an 18 pounder and a 6 pounder cannon en barbette. The floor below the guns was the living quarters for the garrison as in conventional Martello Towers, while the lower ground floor was the storerooms, magazine and water supply.
In keeping with the idea that the major threat would come along the Laventille ridge where an enemy could bring up cannon fairly close to the position, the northwest facing wall was built of stone just over six feet thick, effectively making it cannon proof. On the southern side where attackers would be below the level of the fort and cannon could not get that close, the walls were only four feet three inches thick. The Tower was built with a diameter of over thirty feet of stone, with white lime mixed with molasses and the white of eggs to provide the cement. Inside old baked bricks completed the interior, making the whole structure extremely strong. The entrance was placed on the eastern side so that the fort could be reinforced while under attacked from the south, the west or even the north. It was completed with wooden floors and was operational on 18 November 1798."
Geoffrey MacClean at www.citizensforconservation.org
THOMAS PICTON AND LOUISA CALDERON
"Louisa Calderon was only 13 when her mother sold her to old Pedro Ruiz for 2,750 joes, making him promise to marry Louisa when she reached 16. Mrs Calderon with her two other daughters operated a Coffee Shop in Puerto de Espana in 1799.
Coffee Shops were all over the city but they were really brothels and Pedro was a frequent customer. Whether he had his coffee before or after what he went for, was not known but he bought Louisa because the old reprobate wanted a virgin.
Sir Thomas Picton, the absolute dictator, ruled the country with an iron hand. Once a soldier fell in love with a slave girl and they ran away together. When they were captured, Picton made sure the girl was hanged the next morning in Marine Square – now Brian Lara Promenade, and the soldier received 1,500 lashes.
Carlos Gonzales, the Don Juan of the city, fell in love with Louisa and followed her home. He said, “When I saw you for the first time, your ravishing beauty captivated my very soul. I love you beyond reason, beyond measure, beyond love’s own power of loving.” Louisa did not fall for his flattery and ordered him to leave immediately.
Shortly after this, Pedro Ruiz came home and realised that the money he had to buy mules, was stolen. Picton had Carlos and Louisa arrested. In the Royal Jail, iron rings were placed on their wrists and ankles with chains linking the rings. The magistrate St Hilaire Begorrat supervised the “appliquez le question” to Louisa with six others in the torture chamber.
Her left wrist was tied to a rope which was slung over a pole. Her right wrist was tied to her left ankle. While she was suspended hanging by her left wrist, she was lowered slowly until the right heel was resting on the piquet – a piece of wood about four inches long by two inches wide and rounded at the top to about half an inch to meet the legal requirements.
The piquet was designed not to pierce the skin but to cause pain in every bone and muscle of the body. Louisa suffered for 53 minutes before screaming that Carlos had stolen the money. She was tortured again on Christmas Eve 1801. Petitions were sent to the King who placed Trinidad in commission and after enquiries Picton was ordered to stand trial in London.
Colonel Fullerton, a rival of Picton, Louisa Calderon and other witnesses also went to England.
After the trial, posters distributed to booksellers throughout Britain, reported the news. “The Trial of Governor T Picton for inflicting the torture on Louisa Calderon, a free mulatto, and one of his Britannic Majesty’s Subjects, in the Island of Trinidad. – Tried before Chief Justice Ellenborough and a special jury, and found guilty. Taken in Short-hand during the proceedings on the 24th of February 1806.”
In 1808, after his appeal, Picton was acquitted. Seven years later, he died as a hero at the Battle of Waterloo. Freddie Kissoon www.newsday.co.tt/commentary/0,82831.html
MORE ON PICTON AND CAULDERON
"Picton's enemies, in Trinidad and Britain, saw that the charge of illegally authorising such an inhumane torture on a very young girl could ruin him. Drawings of Luisa being tortured in the Port of Spain jail were published and widely circulated.
She was taken up by Picton's main opponent, William Fullarton, and his wife. They 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.
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. Both trials were extensively reported in the British newspapers and the published reports of "celebrity trials". Luisa was famous even if the eventual verdict got Picton off. The picture of her torture was widely published.
As far as we know, Luisa returned to Trinidad after the final trial in 1808. And then she disappeared from the record; we don't know what became of her. But we do know that she survived her ordeal and became perhaps the first Trinidadian woman to be visible as an individual in the archive, the first to play a part (even if forced on her) in public affairs."
Source: Professor Bridget Brereton in Trinidad Express
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