Hidden Histories in the historical Welsh Print Collection: The case of Louisa Calderon
Collections / Digitisation / News / Research - Posted 30-04-2018
Amongst the treasures in the Historic Welsh Print Collection is a large collection of Welsh and Welsh interest biographies dating from 1800 up to 1914. This collection, soon to be digitised, encompasses over 2000 biographies of figures in Welsh and international public life.
This unique collection includes biographies of clergy, politicians, social reformers, poets, authors and musicians of Welsh descent, of international figures, as well as slave narratives, biographies of ordinary people, of infamous criminals, and of emigrants from Wales to the USA and other countries.
In its entirety the collection offers a comprehensive picture of Welsh public life from the nineteenth century through to the beginning of the First World War, of the people and the issues that of were of concern during this period and also of how the Welsh viewed the world and how the world viewed the Welsh. They also offer the opportunity to discover hidden or previously forgotten histories that shed new light on some of the leading figures of the day.
One of the hidden histories we recently discovered in the collection was that of Sir Thomas Picton and the torture of Louisa Calderon. Thomas Picton is now mainly remembered for his exploits during the Peninsular War and for being the highest ranking officer killed at Waterloo. Indeed, his statue is among the 12 statues of Welsh heroes on display in Cardiff City Hall. However, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, following his time as governor of Trinidad he had a much darker reputation.
Picton’s governorship of Trinidad was authoritarian and brutal and led to his trial at the King’s Bench in 1806 accused of ordering the judicial torture of Louisa Calderon. Calderon was a 14-year old mulatto girl, accused of being involved in the theft of money from a Port of Spain businessman, Pedro Ruiz, whom Louisa’s mother had arranged for her to live with a as a ‘mistress’ at age 11. The trial was a cause celebre at the time and is recounted in detail in The Trial of Governor T. Picton for Inflicting the Torture of Louisa Calderon… published in 1806.
Unable to get a confession through interrogation, Picton had issued the order to ‘Inflict the torture on Louisa Calderon’, who was subsequently subjected to piqueting, which at trial William Garrow, the prosecutor dubbed ‘Pictoning’. Calderon did not confess and was imprisoned for a further 8 months before being released. Picton admitted ordering the torture, but claimed that it was legal under the Spanish law still being administered in Trinidad at the time, despite the island being under British rule. The jury found him guilty, but Picton was never sentenced and the decision was partially reversed by special verdict at a retrial in 1808.
As noted above, the case became a sensation at the time and shone a light on the brutal realities of the British colonial system and indirectly of colonial slavery. Indeed, Picton had originally been accused of a number of other charges, included the execution of over a dozen slaves, although tellingly these were not viewed as being serious enough by the Privy Council to be taken further. Picton had also been a supporter of the development of slave plantations in Trinidad and had made part of his fortune through speculating in slaves.
Despite Picton’s well-deserved reputation as a brutal and autocratic colonial governor, following Waterloo all was quickly forgotten. The Newgate Calendar, which in 1810 had protested that Picton, the perpetrator of these crimes, was still at large was by 1825 portraying Picton as the victim in the case.
Despite the focus placed on her at the time, Louisa Calderon, largely disappeared from the historical record, although she is believed to have returned to Trinidad in 1808 and according to one source died in poverty in June 1825.
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, (London, 1806).
James Epstein – ‘Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon’, American Historical Review, 112 (3), 2007
James Epstein – Scandal of Colonial Rule: Power and Subversion in the British Atlantic during the Age of Revolution, (Cambridge, 2012)
Kit Candlin – The Last Caribbean Frontier, 1795-1815, (Basingstoke, 2012)
Dr Douglas Jones
Published Collections Projects Manager