Slave owner Picton’s portrait to be ‘re-framed’

A portrait of Welsh slave owner Sir Thomas Picton labelling him a hero will be “re-framed” with more context given about his life, National Museum Wales (NMW) has said. Huw Thomas (BBC) writes that Picton has been celebrated as a hero who died at the Battle of Waterloo, but as governor of Trinidad [aka the Tyrant of Trinidad] he abused the slaves he owned, and was known as a tyrant even at the time.

The NMW explains:

“Picton, like many others, directly profited from slave trade activities. More than this, he was renowned for his ruthless treatment of slaves and others as the first British governor of Trinidad.

In 1803 he was brought to trial in London for authorising the torture of Louisa Calderon, a free 14 year old described as a ‘mulatto’ girl, who had been accused of theft. Louisa was hung from a scaffold by her wrist for almost an hour, her entire weight being supported on an upturned wooden peg – an excruciating form of torture known as picketing.

During the trial, Picton was also investigated for torturing, decapitating and burning alive slaves accused of sorcery, witchcraft and necromancy. His small military force used hangings and mutilations as a way of keeping control. He was convicted, but the verdict was later overturned, with Picton arguing that Trinidad at the time was under Spanish law, which sanctioned torture. [. . .]”

Here are excerpts from Thomas’s article:

A group is advising the museum on the future of the painting, which is in one of its galleries in Cardiff. Picton has been celebrated as a hero who died at the Battle of Waterloo. But as governor of Trinidad he abused the slaves he owned, and was known as a tyrant even at the time.

A statue of Picton was boxed up at Cardiff’s City Hall earlier this year, while Carmarthenshire council is considering the future of Carmarthen’s Picton monument.

Picton, who was born in Haverfordwest in 1758, was remembered with pride by many but his reputation as a tyrant in Trinidad was well known before his death at Waterloo. Scrutiny of the memorials to Picton has intensified since the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, and Cardiff council voted in July to remove a marble statue of him from its Hall of Heroes at City Hall.

Deciding Picton’s legacy

National Museum Wales called on the Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel (SSAP) to decide the future of its large portrait of Picton, which currently hangs in the Faces of Wales gallery inside the Cardiff museum.

Its director, Fadhili Maghiya, said the painting should remain on display but with added detail about Picton’s actions as a slave owner. “The same day that Cardiff council were voting to remove the statue of Picton, we came to a decision that we want to re-frame Picton and to tell the story of Picton in his whole complexity,” he said. “We are not about the erasure of culture, or the element of removing things for the sake of removing things because of their historical significance. We believe that history should be told in its complexity, and in its good, bad and ugly way of being presented.”

Mr Maghiya said Picton’s story needed to be re-evaluated. “The story of Picton has certainly been depicted as someone who is a hero. He is revered here in Wales. There are streets and buildings named after him. But people don’t really know the story of Picton in full, other than as this heroic character. And so we wanted to tell the story in its full length, looking at Picton’s role in the slave trade and especially as governor of Trinidad and what he did there during that time.”

For full article, see https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-54692568

Also see https://museum.wales/collections/online/object/4adfdd41-6370-36bf-a907-c74f5ad7d4a5/Lieutenant-General-Sir-Thomas-Picton-1758-1815/

One thought on “Slave owner Picton’s portrait to be ‘re-framed’

  1. What an evil and vile creature!!! Shameful he and many others are celebrated as heroes. And their family members know exactly where and how their riches were achieved…
    All the monies they profited from should be taken and used for the betterment of poor blacks.

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