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Torture most foul

Louisa Calderon...
Published: 
Sunday, September 16, 2012
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Sketch made in 1806 at the trial of Sir Thomas Picton for the torture of Louisa Calderon in 1801.

When one thinks of torture, the mind immediately conjures images of a dank medieval dungeon, a masked man inflicting pain on a hapless victim with evil implements. Torture is not associated with 19th century Trinidad or with the high office of a British Governor, but such was the case involving an unfortunate child named Louisa Calderon. Louisa’s only crime may have been her being a young, nubile girl, forced by poverty to live as the concubine to an old man.

 

Her keeper, Don Pedro Ruiz, resided above his shop on Marine Square and was a wealthy man. Louisa would have been only 11 years old at the point which was a not uncommon relationship paradigm in 1801—a mere four years after the island had been seized by the British from Spain.

 

 

Allegedly, Louisa became involved with one Carlos Gonzalez with whom she conspired to rob Don Pedro’s cash box of a quantity of gold. At the time it was widely believed that Don Pedro himself had staged the ‘robbery’ and framed Louisa for her infidelity.  The matter was reported to the local magistrate who in turn referred it to Governor Sir Thomas Picton, a man to whom Don Pedro was personally known, Picton having taken a glass of wine in his shop at least once.

 

 

Picton was a man of a hard constitution and rather than enquire further into the matter, took the drastic expedient of forcing a confession from Louisa via torture. According to a contemporary source, the picket was chosen as the instrument of questioning, which was applied thus:

 

“Her position may be easily described. The great toe was lodged upon a sharp piece of wood, while the opposite wrist was suspended in a pulley, and the other hand and foot were lashed together. Another time the horrid ceremony was repeated, with this difference, that her feet were changed. This practice, I hope, will not in future be called picketing, but Pictoning that it may be recognised by the dreadful appellation which belongs to it. She remained upon the spike three-quarters of an hour, and the next day 22 minutes. She swooned away each time before she was taken down, and was then put into irons called the grillos; which were pieces of iron, with two rings for the feet, fastened to the wall; and in this situation she remained for eight months.”

 

For this atrocity, Picton faced Lord Ellenborough, the King’s Justice in 1806. In a highly celebrated and public trial, much gruesome evidence was called to the fore which spoke to the manner in which Louisa had been tortured and maimed before being released without having been actually charged with the crime. Picton was found guilty, but appealed the verdict in 1808 by which time he had become a leading war hero. Picton died at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 with great valor, being shot in the heat of the fray, but his memory is haunted by the torture of Louisa Calderon.

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