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When I was eight years old and a pupil in the Model School, Carmarthen, we were given the holiday task of writing down the inscription on the monument to General Sir Thomas Picton, which stands at the western end of the town. A friend and I diligently copied the details, none of which I remembered afterwards. (The monument was commissioned in 1823, the king contributing a hundred guineas towards its construction, I have since read.)
Thomas Picton was born in Poyston, Pembrokeshire, in 1758.
Regarded as a hero by those unaware of his background, a Haverfordwest school was named after him, called STP by the pupils. My son-in-law, Neil, was the first Head Boy.
A brave soldier, Picton became Governor of Trinidad. By all accounts, he was brutal with a foul temper.
'Let them hate, so long as they fear', was his motto.
In 1806, Picton appeared before Lord Ellenborough at the King's Bench, accused of torturing a fourteen year old girl, making her stand on a peg. She was suspected of assisting a lover to burgle the house of the man she lived with.
The jury decided Spanish law did not allow the torture of suspects and, on the evidence given, found Picton guilty.
Picton sought a retrial and this time the jury reversed the earlier verdict but said that torture of a free person was distasteful to the laws of England and Picton must have known he should not have permitted it.
His reputation was tarnished.In England there was talk of his ill-treatment of slaves, including his own and his land profiteering.
Mortally wounded by a musket ball at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, he was said to have been wearing civilian clothes and a top hat because his trunk, containing his uniform, had not arrived.
Picton's portrait hangs above the Judge's chair at Carmarthen Crown Court. A solicitor has objected, saying the court is a symbol of justice and Picton's portrait is highly objectionable.
One of the first things students of history learn is to judge a past age by the standards of that age. I always argued this point in essays I wrote when in college and yet, I have some sympathy with the sentiments expressed.
Conversely, I think it is no bad thing to remember the atrocities of the past and endeavour not to repeat them, even if it means keeping General Picton's portrait in situ.