The torture of Louisa Calderon
FREDDIE KISSOON Saturday, July 19 2008
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WRIGHTSON ROAD, JAPAN: It was easy to mistake Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, for a street in Tokyo on Thursday when this foreign used vehicle complet...
“In 1806, Trinidad made world news as the Land of Torture. This came about when the governor of the island, Sir Thomas Picton, was on trial in London for the torture of a girl. There were 16 serious charges against him but that particular one captured the imagination of the British public. The whole story is filled with drama, intrigue and bacchanal. By the way, her name was Louisa Calderon.”
Thus spoke the history lecturer in 1954 at QRC where I was attending an Extra-Mural class entitled, “Trinidad – Growth and Development”. Louisa fascinated me and since then my search for material about her started. I read articles by E L Joseph, Dr de Verteuil, George Ryley Scott, extracts from books by Dr Eric Williams, V S Naipaul, Lionel M Fraser, C R Ottley, Michael Anthony and Gerard Besson.
After 37 years, I wrote “Louisa Calderon” my second longest play – two hours and 30 minutes – which was eventually staged at the City Hall for three nights in 1992.
She 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, 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. Louisa went underground and was never seen or heard of again.
It was said, “In settling an island, the first building erected by a Spaniard would be a church; by a Frenchman, a fort; by at Dutchman, a warehouse and by an Englishman, a pub.”