Governor Picton’s folly
FREDDIE KISSOON Saturday, July 7 2012
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POSTER CHAMPS: Students, from left, Destiny John, Daniella James, Lily Carmona and Simone Williams all of Tunapuna Girls RC Primary School, which plac...
Interviewer: History tells us that Sir Ralph Abercromby conquered our island from Spaniards in 1797. Abercromby ruled for only six months then he appointed Brigadier General Thomas Picton to the post, giving him absolute power. We have in Port-of-Spain, Picton Square with his statue, Picton Street, and in the East Dry River area the Picton community with Picton Fort. There are many more places named after our former governor. Now in the studio with me is the man himself. Welcome Governor Picton.
Picton: It’s good to be back. I was amazed that every day, after more than two centuries, my name is still mentioned. Sir Ralph left me in charge and after six and a half years as governor, I had to leave hurriedly by night for Barbados on an assignment.
Interviewer: Well, on the contrary. According to the records, Colonel William Fullarton who was made the First Commander-in-Chief of the Colony of Trinidad, had sent you a letter which read, “I beg you to be assured that if it were a mere question of your personal insults or resistance to me in the execution of my public duty, I should desire you to oppose my landing on the Mole, and in the event of your doing so, in person, I should draw my sword and run you through the body.” ‘The Mole’ mentioned was the mooring place where the old lighthouse on Wrightson Road, still stands. But, the citizens of Conquerabia, Cumucurapo, Port of Spayne, Puerto de Espana which we now call Port-of-Spain, felt that you fled like a coward in the dark of night.
Picton: You have to remember that the secretary of the “Friends of Humanity” — the Scotsman McCallum and Pedro Vargas sent petitions to His Majesty the King. The newspapers were on their side and La Trinidad was branded “The Land of Torture.” I was blamed for everything. As a Welshman, I was in charge of a British colony, where most of the citizens were French planters with hundreds of their African slaves and the savage Amerindian tribes. Added to that there were German soldiers to uphold the laws of the former Spanish government.
Interviewer: The records show that by your order the girl Luisa Calderon was tortured in the presence of Magistrate St Hilaire Begorrat and other witnesses. It reads, “For 20 minutes, the ball of her foot was on the piquet. For another 20 minutes only her big toe touched the stake and for 13 minutes she was suspended, lifted up by the wrist alone, a total of 53 minutes before she asked to be taken down.” You were charged for that torture plus seven charges for illegal executions, another seven connected with the poisoning commission and with the massive hangings of the German soldiers in the Port-of-Spain Barracks. For these offences you were tried in London in February 1806.
Picton: Yes, the Lord Chief Ellenborough found me guilty but he said that the British government was not unmindful of the services I had rendered in the past, so he did not condemn me to the common jail but placed me in a private house. My bail was forty thousand pounds and I had the right to appeal.
Interviewer: Which you did in June 1808, Lord Ellenborough found that Pedro Vargas’ evidence was false and Spanish laws did in fact permit torture. Consequently, you were acquitted. But Governor Picton, the people did not forgive you for robbing Mrs Griffith and her two daughters of their house and giving it to your mistress, Mrs Rosetta Smith.
Picton: I was aware of that, but the one to whom it mattered the most, was her husband and he had no objections to sharing that lovely chocolate coloured lady with me.
Interviewer: Well, can you tell us why the Fort you built on the hill was called ‘Picton’s Folly’ by the citizens in your time?
Picton: There was no door and they simply could not figure out where the entrance was. My fort has a subterranean entrance. The secret passage begins at the foot of the hill on Piccadilly Street.
Interviewer: Interesting. Sorry, our time is up. Thank you very much, Governor Picton.