Papers of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1st Bart.

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 161 GB 162 Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 444
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
      English , and French
  • Physical Description
      46 volumes Due to the way that many of the loose papers were originally folded and stored, the outersurfaces of the folds have tended to become susceptible to damage, whilesome papers have been stained by the wooden boards they were stored between.After conservation and fumigation, they have been bound uniformly withwith the loose family letters and other personal papers. The letter books and other mounted papers have been left in their original state. The letter booksare unfit for production, and have been photographed onto microfilm, whichis available for consultation at the library.

Scope and Content

  • Letters to Hannah Buxton nee Gurney, 1804-1840
  • Family correspondence, 1812-1847
  • Miscellaneous correspondence and copies of letters from Joseph John Gurney, 1818-1847
  • New Year and birthday reflections and obituaries, 1813-1845
  • Scriptural notes, prayers and meditations, 1828-1838
  • Notebooks, 1812-[c1814]
  • Notes and drafts for speeches, [c1820], 1829-1839
  • Printed speeches and other publications, 1816-1837
  • Indexes, 1834-1839
  • Extracts relating to the abolition of slavery, volumes II-XI, 1833-1844
  • Letters and transcripts of letters describing the Buxton family's journey in Italy, 1839-1840
  • Papers relating to the inquiry on the apprenticeship of African labourers, 1830-1837
  • Manuscript and printed papers concerning the apprenticeship system, the emancipation of slaves, etc., 1832-1837
  • Papers relating to the slave trade, 1828-1841
  • Extracts from newspapers, 1821-1848
  • Material extracted by Mrs. Charlotte Upcher from Parliamentary papers and missionary journals to support Buxton's arguments, 1838-1840

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1st Bart. (1786-1845), philanthropist, received his higher education from 1803 at Trinity College, Dublin, where he received the university gold medal. In 1808, he joined the firm of Truman, Hanbury & Co., brewers, of Spitalfields, London, where he interested himself in several local projects and charities, including the Bible Society. He also campaigned for penal reform, publishing An Inquiry, whether Crime and Misery are produced or prevented, by our present system of prison discipline (London, J. & A. Arch, 1818) and joining the committee of the Society for the Reformation of Prison Discipline. From 1818 to 1837, he represented Weymouth as M.P.. From 1824, he succeeded Wilberforce as leader of the anti-slavery party in the House of Commons. Even after the Emancipation Act of 1834, he campaigned against the apprenticeship system in the West Indies. He also worked against the slave trade in Africa itself, writing The African Slave Trade (London, John Murray, 1839), and advocating treaties with local chiefs, the purchase of Feando Po on the African west coast as a local headquarters, and an expedition up the River Niger. The expedition, although initially disastrous, led to the opening up of central Africa and the formation of new avenues of British trade. From c1840 until his death, he lived and worked among his estates near Cromer, Norfolk, where he established plantations and model farms. In 1807 he married Hannah Gurney, with whom he had three sons and two daughters, though his eldest son and two other children died in 1820.


The collection is separated into five sections:

  • Letters and papers chiefly concerning his private life
  • Speeches
  • Letter books (entitled Extracts relating to the Abolition of Slavery), with correspondence relating to his family's winter in Italy, 1839-1840
  • Evidence amassed on the West Indian apprenticeship system
  • Background material collected for his campaign against the African slave trade

The use of letters, personal papers and Extracts by Buxton's son, Charles, when producing the Memoirs of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, Baronet. With selections from his correspondence (London, John Murray, 1848) has resulted in anomalies in the order of papers in the first three volumes of the collection. Letters quoted in the memoirs are suffixed in the handlist.

Access Information

Bodleian reader's ticket required.


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

Other Finding Aids

Listed as no. 569 in Manuscript Collections in Rhodes House Library Oxford, Accessions 1978-1994 (Oxford, Bodleian Library, 1996). A handlist, Calendar of The Papers of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton 1786-1845 by Patricia M. Pugh, List & Index Society, Special Series, Volume 13 (London, Swift Printers (Sales) Ltd., 1980) is also available in the library reading room.

Conditions Governing Use

No reproduction or publication of personal papers without permission. Contact the library in the first instance.

Custodial History

Although Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton originally made his own arrangements for the papers to be stored in pigeon holes in his study at Northrepps Hall, Cromer, Norfolk, the collection was actually kept at Northrepps Cottage until [?1911], where Anna Gurney, Buxton's cousin, and Sarah Maria Buxton, his sister, compiled his letter books and prepared other papers. Somehow the first and last letter books became separated from the main series. Nevertheless, the first book was eventually traced and purchased in 1985, and a microfilm copy made of the last book, which was lent to the library by Mr. R.Q. Gurney of Bawdeswell Hall, Norfolk.

The books make reference to letter-cases which no longer form part of the collection. Some of the 'Slave Trade Papers' are also missing. For further information on the formation of the collection, see the library's handlist, Calendar of The Papers of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton 1786-1845 by Patricia M. Pugh, List & Index Society, Special Series, Volume 13 (London, Swift Printers (Sales) Ltd., 1980).


The first volume of Extracts relating to the Abolition of Slavery, with related papers, including an annotated copy of Memoirs of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, Baronet. With selections from his correspondence, by Charles Buxton (s.l., s.d., 1855) was purchased by the library in 1985 and given the reference MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 444*.

Related Material

  • 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)
  • Family correspondence, [c1807-1845] (ref. MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 558)
  • Letters and papers of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1804-[20th cent.], (ref. MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 559)
  • Letter from Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton to his daughter Priscilla, regarding his future work in Parliament, 1834, and letter from Priscilla to her aunt with extracts from Buxton's letters from London concerning slavery, 1824 (ref. MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 547)
  • Records of the Anti-Slavery Society, 1820-1951 (refs. MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 16-24; Micr. U.S.A. 187-188; MSS. Amer. r. 1)
  • A letter to Thomas Fowell Buxton...on the character of the liberated Africans at Sierra Leone, and on the cultivation of cotton in that colony, by William Fergusson (London, s.d., 1839), (ref. 721.12 r. 19)
  • Various Buxton family papers, including an album of cuttings and newspaper obituary, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1838-1847 (ref. D/DBx/A9), are held by the Essex Record Office
  • Letters from John Gurney to Buxton's children transcribed into the letter books by Anna Gurney or Sarah Maria Buxton form 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


Letters, personal papers and parts of the Extracts were used in Memoirs of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, Baronet. With selections from his correspondence, by Charles Buxton (London, John Murray, 1848). Material from the collection was also used in Lord Palmerston and the Rio Nunez Affair, by Rodrick Braithwaite, and in White dreams, black Africa: the antislavery expedition to the River Niger, by Howard Temperley (London, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1991).

Additional Information

The original Extracts relating to the Abolition of Slavery, Vol.1 is held by R.Q. Gurney, Esq..