THIS week, historian Mark Muller paints a picture of the life of General Sir Thomas Picton, and his link to the Battle of Waterloo...

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. About eight miles south of Brussels, the battle was the final attempt by Napoleon to gain dominance in Europe after twenty years of unremitting warfare over the whole of the continent.

Blocking the road that led to Brussels was the army of the Duke of Wellington, consisting mainly of Dutch, German and British soldiers and numbering about 70,000.

One of the main players in the battles leading up to this momentous event and taking a lead role in Waterloo itself was General Sir Thomas Picton.

Picton’s family home was in Poyston Hall, just north of Haverfordwest, but he was born in Hill Street in August 1758 - while his mother was visiting friends in what was the town house of the Laugharne family, remembered by many as The Dragon Hotel.

Picton was baptised in Rudbaxton Church and attended Haverfordwest Grammar School before joining his uncle’s regiment aged 13.

During a 12-year period back at home due to his regiment’s inactivity, Picton fought a duel with Charles Hassall, land agent for William Knox of Slebech Park and Llanstinan Estates (whose son Thomas was the one charged with cowardice for turning back during the French invasion of 1797).

Hassall bested Picton and wounded him in the throat.

After such a lengthy episode of early semi-retirement Picton saw service in the West Indies Between 1794 and 1797, he went from captain to colonel followed, by governorship of Trinidad. But in spite of allowing his career to soar, Trinidad was to return and haunt Picton for many years.

His governorship was in general viewed as being exceptionally brutal but in particular he was brought to trial for allowing the torture of a 14-year-old girl named Luisa Calderon.

The trial dragged on for years at the end of which Picton was found technically guilty but his request of a retrial ensured further years of legal wrangling and enormous expense.

By this time, 1810, he had been appointed to command a division in Spain which became known as ‘The Fighting Third’.

In a busy three years, Picton showed his exceptional bravery and ability as a general. In 1813, he was promoted to Lieutenant General and invested as Knight of the Order of the Bath. He also found time to become MP for the Pembroke Boroughs despite disliking the paraphernalia that went with canvassing for votes.

On Napoleon’s escape from Elba in February 1815 the Duke of Wellington, on assembling his force, requested Picton to once again take command of a division, this time the Fifth.

An initial bloody clash at Quatre Bras, two days before Waterloo left Picton’s force badly mauled and he wounded, but he swore his aides to secrecy and led his men on the June 18.

At a crucial point in the battle he led his men in a bayonet charge and fell with a head wound that killed him immediately.

Having described him as, ‘a rough, foul-mouthed devil as ever lived’ The Duke of Wellington wrote to Parliament stating that the loss of Picton would be felt immensely:

‘In Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton, his majesty has sustained the loss of an officer who has frequently distinguished himself in his service; and he fell, gloriously leading his division to a charge with bayonets, by which one of the most serious attacks made by the enemy of our position was defeated.’

Initially buried in Hanover Square, Picton was re-interred in St Paul’s Cathedral in 1859. The monument erected in the north transept had by then been long installed. It was designed by John Nash and created by E Bailey.

Among the many honours inscribed on it, it says, ‘to the memory of a hero and a Welshman’.


In other history news, plans for this year's Haverfordwest Ghost Walks are well under way in their construction.

This will be the sixth year the walks have taken place, and will be held over five nights at the end of July. The routes will incorporate some stunning new locations, and tickets (priced at £5) are available from Victoria Bookshop.