Trial of Governor T. Picton

Thomas PICTON   |   Louisa CALDERON

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Item#: 120775 price:$3,800.00

Trial of Governor T. Picton
Trial of Governor T. Picton
Trial of Governor T. Picton


(PICTON, Thomas) (CALDERON, Luisa). 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 Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough and a Special Jury, and Found Guilty. Taken in Short-Hand during the Proceedings on the 24th of February, 1806. London: Printed by Dewick & Clarke.. For B. Crosby and Co., (1806). Octavo, period-style half tan cloth and marbled boards; pp. (i-ii), (1-5), 6-126 (2). $3800.

First edition of the dramatic 1806 trial that charged Britain's governor of Trinidad with the brutal torture of a young girl of color by suspending her with one hand tied to a pulley, the other to her bent leg and one foot poised on a wooden spike, this exceptionally rare copy documenting the historic trial's questions about "England’s constitutional superiority" and sovereign claims under international law, featuring the engraved frontispiece of the trial's famed drawing of Louisa Calderon's torture.

The trial of Thomas Picton, Britain's first governor of the colony of Trinidad after seizing it from Spain in 1797, is one of the first to center people of African descent in an international legal conflict over jurisdictional sovereignty. To scholar James Epstein, this trial especially reveals "pertinent truths… [and] illuminates most forcefully the discordant tangling of… law, rights and authority." The trial focused on Louisa Calderon, a barely 14-year-old girl of mixed racial descent, who was tortured with a practice known as "piqueting." Early used as a British military practice, at the time of Picton's trial it was renamed "pictoning." Calderon, the trial's star witness, had been "tied by one wrist to a scaffold, her other wrist was tied to her ankle, and she was then lowered by means of a pulley onto a wooden spike, the full weight of her body resting on her naked foot." According to her testimony here, she was first subjected to torture for nearly 45 minutes, and on another day for over 20 minutes, causing her to faint twice and leaving her "suffering from excruciating pain in her side and wrist and from a badly swollen foot" (Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation, 714, 721).

Picton had already been "accused of having burned alive, decapitated and brutally executed slaves," but was never brought to court on those charges. In this 1806 trial, held in London before a "special jury in the court of the King's Bench," he was charged with having "personally signed the infamous order… this bloody sentence: 'Inflict the torture on Louisa Calderon.'" In the prison cell where she was tortured, Calderon "was shown two or three female slaves who 'were to undergo the same severities, on a charge of sorcery and witchcraft.'" Prosecutor Garrow charged that with this case: "we behold a British governor for the first time introducing torture into a British settlement, as a punishment for sorcery and witchcraft, and as a means of extorting confession" (Epstein,717-19; emphasis in original). At the trial Garrow astonished many by displaying, as evidence, a drawing of Calderon under torture. This exceptional first edition—"the most complete version of the trial"—contains the frontispiece engraving of that drawing.

The Picton trial, key to "a wider conflict over the future of British colonial rule in the Caribbean," also came at a time when Trinidad "posed a crucial test for halting the spread of slavery" and "raised troubling questions… about England's constitutional superiority." Further, although the jury returned a verdict of guilty, the case left unresolved England and Spain's conflict over competing legal authority. Ultimately, in further trials, "the case refused to come entirely to rest" and "Picton was never sentenced on the verdict" (Epstein, 715-18, 724). Killed at Battle of Waterloo, Sir Thomas Picton remains honored with his portrait in Britain's National Portrait Gallery. In 2020, however, the city council of Cardiff, Wales voted to remove his statue, noting: "awareness about the history of slavery must include a reassessment of the regard in which we hold Picton." Luisa Calderon's life after the trial remains uncertain. A Trinidad historian recorded that a woman named Louisa Calderon died in poverty in 1828 (Epstein, 740-41). First edition: with rear advertisement leaf. Issued same year as the brief 36-page work; no priority determined. Sabin 62684. Goldsmiths II:19253.

Text generally fresh with foxing mainly to early and rear leaves, small corner of expert restoration to half title not affecting text. An extraordinary and seminal trial record in very good condition.

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