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Thomas Picton is widely regarded as a war hero but also had a reputation for brutality during his governorship of Trinidad, where he enslaved and ordered the torturing of people. It poses the question of whether he should be viewed as a hero or a villain. These sources provide an opportunity to use critical thinking skills and to introduce the concept of 'challenging history'. The activities can support learners to become ethical, informed citizens. Opportunities are available to expand on the topic and look further into the history of colonisation, especially its impact on today's society.

Questions to discuss

  • How would you present the history of Thomas Picton?
  • How can a person be a hero to one, but a villain to another?
  • Is this source valuable evidence in formulating or supporting your particular interpretation.
  • What other information would be valuable in order to draw a conclusion about Thomas Picton's character and legacy?
  • Is Thomas Picton portrayed as a hero or a villain in the painting 'Death of Sir Thomas Picton'?


  • Identify and discuss different heroes and villains.
  • Identify the difference between fact and opinion.
  • Hold a debate, with a case for and against.

Learning experiences

(derived from the statements of what matters)

Progression step 4 or 5
Languages, Literacy and Communication
  • Listen and understand
  • Read words and text
  • Collecting and deducing
  • Understanding perspectives
  • Understanding the past
  • Social and cultural importance
  • Understanding human rights

Wales and the slave trade

The slave trade in the British empire was abolished in 1807, but slavery still persisted, and in some circumstances slaves could still be bought and sold. In October 1810, for example, Major General Thomas Picton – at that time fighting in Portugal with Wellington – made an agreement with members of the Delaforest family for the conveyance of plantations, buildings, implements, slaves, horses, mules and other effects in Trinidad, which had become a British colony in 1797 (Picton Family Records 19). Picton, a wealthy landowner who later became M.P. for Pembroke Boroughs, was well known for his cruelty and arbitrary brutality, especially to slaves, and he had been found guilty of approving the torture of a young girl called Luisa Calderón (who was not a slave) in Trinidad in 1801, but he had appealed against the conviction on a technicality and the case was never resolved. For many years he was best remembered for his part in the Peninsular war and his death at Waterloo, and a monument was erected in tribute to him in Carmarthen. There has recently been a campaign to remove it.

Extract from blog post: Wales and the slave trade

The case 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 was 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. 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.

Extract from blog post: Hidden Histories in the historical Welsh Print Collection: The case of Louisa Calderon

External resources

  • Reframing Picton (Amgueddfa Cymru- Museum Wales)
  • Angharad Tomos (2022) Translated by Mícheál Ó hAodha. Woven. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch
  • Williams, Charlotte (2001) Sugar and Slate. Parthian Books.
  • O’Leary, Paul et al. (2015) A Tolerant Nation? Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru.