Thomas Picton bigraphy, stories - British Army general

Thomas Picton : biography

1758 - 18 June 1815

Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton GCB (24 August 1758 – 18 June 1815) was a British Army officer who fought in a number of campaigns for Britain, and rose to the rank of lieutenant general. According to the historian Alessandro Barbero, Picton was "respected for his courage and feared for his irascible temperament." He is chiefly remembered for his exploits under the Duke of Wellington in the Iberian Peninsular War and at the Battle of Waterloo, where he was mortally wounded while his division stopped d'Erlon's corps attack against the allied centre left, and as a result became the most senior officer to die at Waterloo.

Career in the New World

Under Sir Ralph Abercromby, who succeeded Vaughan in 1795, he was present at the capture of St Lucia (after which he was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 56th Foot) and then that of St Vincent.

After the reduction of Trinidad, Abercromby made Picton governor of the island. For the next 5 years he held the island with a garrison he considered inadequate against the threats of internal unrest and of reconquest by the Spanish. He ensured order by vigorous action, viewed variously as rough and ready justice or as arbitrary brutality. In October 1801 he was gazetted brigadier-general. During the negotiations leading to the Peace of Amiens, many of the British inhabitants petitioned against the return of the island to Spain; this together with Picton's and Abercromby's representations, ensured the retention of Trinidad as a British possession.

By then, reports of arbitrariness and brutality associated with his governorship had led to a demand at home for his removal. (Picton was also making money from speculation in land and slaves and his mulatto mistress was believed to be corruptly influencing his decisions.) Furthermore, Trinidad no longer faced any external threat, the Pitt ministry had fallen and the new Addington administration did not want Trinidad to develop the plantation economy Picton favoured. In 1802, William Fullarton (1754–1808) was appointed as the Senior Member of a commission to govern the island, Samuel Hood became the second member, and Picton himself the junior.

Fullarton had a very different background from Picton. He came from a wealthy and long-established Scots land-owning family and was a Whig MP, a Fellow of the Royal Society, an improving landlord, and a patron of Robert Burns. He had been a junior diplomat, before in the course of the American War of Independence raising a regiment of which he naturally became the Colonel. He ended that war in India commanding an army of 14,000 men in operations against Tippu Sultan.The general being sacked for incompetence, Fullarton,( a civilian 3 years ago, and fresh to India) was (because he had raised a regiment at his own expense) senior in the Army List to other colonels present, and hence took command (and acquitted himself well) following which he had written an influential pamphlet arguing that the East India Company had brought trouble on itself by its unprincipled treatment of native princes and native subjects and that a more humane policy than "let them hate so long as they fear" would be more effective in securing its position. The new Secretary of State for the Colonies (Lord Hobart) had served as Governor of Madras soon after the pamphlet came out, knew Fullarton, and had been influenced by his views.

Picton's policy with respect to various sections of the island population had effectively been "let them hate so long as they fear" and he and Fullarton rapidly fell out. (This, of itself, further worsened the rift: Fullarton's Indian pamphlet had also reported adversely on conflicts of interest and dissension between the English having weakened their ability to govern well, to negotiate effectively, and to effectively defend their possessions.) Fullarton commenced a series of open enquiries on allegations against Picton and reported his unfavourable views on Picton's past actions at length to meetings of the commission. Picton thereupon tendered his resignation and was soon followed by Hood (1803).

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