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Collection Level Description: Papers of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1st Baronet (1)

Reference: MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 444
Title: Papers of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1st Baronet (1)
Dates of Creation: 1804-1847
Extent: 46 volumes
Physical Description: Due to the way that many of the loose papers were originally folded and stored, the outer surfaces of the folds have tended to become susceptible to damage, while some papers have been stained by the wooden boards they were stored between. After conservation and fumigation, they have been bound uniformly with with the loose family letters and other personal papers. The letter books and other mounted papers have been left in their original state. The letter books are unfit for production, and have been photographed onto microfilm, which is available for consultation at the library.

Language of Material: English and French



Administrative/Biographical History

Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786-1845), philanthropist, received his higher education from 1803 at Trinity College, Dublin, where he received the university gold medal. In 1807, he married Hannah Gurney, by whom he had three sons and two 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 sufferings of the weavers. He also organised a system of relief for the population of the area in 1816. At this time, he published An Inquiry, whether Crime and Misery are produced or prevented, by our present system of prison discipline (London, J. & A. Arch, 1818), a book which led to the formation of the Society for the Reformation of Prison Discipline (whose committee he later joined) and also, indirectly, to an investigation into the management of the gaols in Madras, India.

From 1818 to 1837 he represented Weymouth as M.P.; at the same time he devoted himself to the preparation of a work on prison discipline, the foundation of a savings bank and salt fish market in Spitalfields, an inquiry into the management of the London Hospital, and the formation of a new Bible Association. Taking a close interest in the operation of the criminal laws, he supported Mackintosh's motion in 1820 for abolishing the death penalty for forgery.

In 1824, Wilberforce, leader of the anti-slavery party in the House of Commons, asked Buxton to become his successor. Buxton, who had been a member of the African Institution and an active supporter of the movement for some years, accepted, and pursued the cause vigorously until the 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, he sought the abolition of the slave trade in Africa itself, and published The African Slave Trade (London, John Murray, 1839). He recommended various measures, including the formation of treaties with native chiefs, the purchase of Fernando Po as a local headquarters and market of commerce, the formation of a company to introduce agriculture and commerce into Africa, and an expedition up the River Niger to set forward preliminary arrangements. The Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and the Civilisation of Africa was established, but the Niger expedition ended disastrously, with the deaths of forty-one members of the party from the African fever.

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

Scope and Content

System of Arrangement

The collection is separated into five sections:

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.

Administrative Information

Access Conditions

Bodleian reader's ticket required: http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/services/admissions/.

Reproduction Restrictions

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

Further Information

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.

Related Units of Description Publication Note

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).

Access Points

Buxton | Thomas Fowell | 1786-1845 | Sir | 1st Baronet Philanthropist

Italy | Description and travel | 1801-1860

British and Foreign Bible Society

Apprentices | West Indies, British | History

Slavery | Africa, West | History | 19th century

Africa, West | Discovery and exploration | English

Slavery | Great Britain | Anti-slavery movements

The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society


Transformation from XML to HTML by Lawrence Mielniczuk
27 June 2011