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Papers of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1st Baronet (1)


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


  • Creation: 1804-1847


46 Volumes

Language of Materials

  • English
  • French

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. Bodleian Libraries of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 444].

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Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 444

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 1064

Biographical / Historical

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.


The collection is separated into five sections:

  1. Letters and papers chiefly concerning his private life
  2. Speeches
  3. Letter books (entitled Extracts relating to the Abolition of Slavery), with correspondence relating to his family's winter in Italy, 1839-1840
  4. Evidence amassed on the West Indian apprenticeship system
  5. 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.

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.

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).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was donated to the library by members of the Buxton family in November 1975, after they had been discovered in the apple racks of one of the family properties in Essex.

Related Materials

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*.

  1. 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)
  2. Correspondence of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, [c1807-1845] (ref. MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 558)
  3. Papers of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, [c1805-1903], (ref. MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 559)
  4. 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)
  5. 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)
  6. 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)


  • 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).

Physical Facet

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.

Papers of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1st Baronet (1)
Paul Davidson
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom