Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, Letters and Papers, 1805-1903

Scope and Content

Letters and papers of or relating to Buxton, including one letter from Thomas Clarkson and two (one a contemporary copy) from William Wilberforce, 1805-1903; also including an account of Mrs. Fry's visit to Glasgow Prison in 1818, written in 1834 by Anna Gurney.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786-1845), philanthropist, received his highereducation from 1803 at Trinity College, Dublin, where he received the universitygold medal. In 1807, he married Hannah Gurney, by whom he had three sons andtwo daughters, though his eldest son and two other children died in 1820.

In 1808 he joined the firm of Truman, Hanbury, & Co., brewers, of Spitalfields,London, where he interested himself in various local charitable undertakings,especially those connected with education, the Bible Society, and the sufferingsof the weavers. He also organised a system of relief for the population ofthe area in 1816. At this time, he published 'An Inquiry, whether Crime and Misery are produced or prevented, by ourpresent system of prison discipline' (London, J. & A. Arch, 1818), a bookwhich led to the formation of the Society for the Reformation of PrisonDiscipline (whose committee he later joined) and also, indirectly, to aninvestigation into the management of the gaols in Madras, India.

From 1818 to1837 he represented Weymouth as M.P.; at the same time he devoted himselfto the preparation of a work on prison discipline, the foundation of asavings bank and salt fish market in Spitalfields, an inquiry into themanagement of the London Hospital, and the formation of a new BibleAssociation. Taking a close interest in the operation of the criminal laws,he supported Mackintosh's motion in 1820 for abolishing the death penaltyfor forgery.

In 1824, Wilberforce, leader of the anti-slavery party in theHouse of Commons, asked Buxton to become his successor. Buxton, who hadbeen a member of the African Institution and an active supporter of themovement for some years, accepted, and pursued the cause vigorously untilthe abolition of British slavery in 1834. He also campaigned against the apprenticeship system in the West Indies after emancipation. After losing his seat in 1837, hesought the abolition of the slave trade in Africa itself, and published'The African Slave Trade' (London, John Murray, 1839). He recommended variousmeasures, including the formation of treaties with native chiefs, the purchaseof Fernando Po as a local headquarters and market of commerce, the formationof a company to introduce agriculture and commerce into Africa, and an expeditionup the River Niger to set forward preliminary arrangements. The Societyfor the Extinction of the Slave Trade and the Civilisation of Africa wasestablished, but the Niger expedition ended disastrously, with the deaths offorty-one members of the party from the African fever.

Eventually, theexpedition produced positive results for the British, including theopening up of Central Africa and the formation of an important trade incotton and other articles. However, its failure affected Buxton badly, and hishealth deteriorated. For the few years until the end of his life, he devotedhimself to his estates near Cromer, Norfolk, where he established plantations and model farms. Awarded a baronetcy in 1840, he is commemorated by a statueby Thrupp in the north transept of Westminster Abbey.

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Collection level description created by Paul Davidson, Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House.

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Related Material

  • Family letters, including correspondence with the Gurney and Hoare families and Elizabeth Fry; evidence collected for his books on penal reform, slavery and the slave trade, and the Niger expedition of 1841; commonplace books; press cuttings on slavery, etc., 1804-1847 (ref. MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 444)
  • Typed transcripts of letters from Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, part of the papers of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society, 1832-1846 (ref. MSS. Amer. r. 1)
  • First volume of 'Extracts relating to the Abolition of Slavery', with related papers (uncatalogued)
  • Letters from Buxton to his daughter Priscilla and from Priscilla to her aunt with extracts from her father's letters on the slavery question, 1824-1834 (ref. MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 547)
  • Correspondence of Buxton and his family, c1807-1845 (ref. MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 558)
  • 'A letter to Thomas Fowell Buxton...on the character of the liberated Africans at Sierra Leone, and on the cultivation of tton in that colony,' by William Fergusson (London, sl, 1839), (ref. 721.12 r. 19)
  • Letters from John Gurney to Buxton's children transcribed into the letter books by Anna Gurney or Sarah Maria Buxton forming part of the Gurney papers in the library of the Friends' Meeting House, Euston Road, London (see List and Index Society Special Series, Volume VI)
  • Eight photographs of Sir Thomas Fowler Buxton and family, in private ownership
  • Buxton correspondence, 1801-1809, in private ownership
  • Letter from Thomas Clarkson, anti-slavery campaigner to Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1839, in private ownership