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.
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.
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A handlist is available in the library reading room.Related Units of Description
Buxton | Thomas Fowell | 1786-1845 | Sir | 1st Baronet Philanthropist
Clarkson | Thomas | 1760-1846 | Philanthropist
Wilberforce | William | 1759-1833 | MP Philanthropist
Fry | Elizabeth | 1780-1845 | née Gurney | prison reformer Quaker minister
Slavery | Great Britain | Anti-slavery movements
Apprentices | West Indies, British