Buxton was born at Castle Hedingham, Essex. His father was also named Thomas Fowell Buxton. His mother's maiden name was Anna Hanbury. Through the influence of his mother, who was a Quaker, Buxton became associated with the Gurney family of Earlham Hall, Norwich. He was especially close to Joseph John Gurney, his sister the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, and their sister Hannah, whom he married in May 1807. He lived at Northrepps Hall in Norfolk.
In 1808, Buxton's Hanbury family connections led to an appointment to work at the brewery of Truman, Hanbury & Company, in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, London. In 1811 he was made a partner in the business, renamed Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co. He later became sole owner.
Although he was a member of the Church of England, Buxton attended meetings of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) with some of the Gurneys. In this way he became involved in the social reform movement, in which Friends were prominent. He helped raise money for the weavers of London, who were being forced into poverty by the factory system. He provided financial support for Elizabeth Fry's prison reform work and joined her Association for the Improvement of the Female Prisoners in Newgate.
Buxton was elected to Parliament for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis in 1818. As an MP he worked for changes in prison conditions and criminal law and for the abolition of slavery, in which he was helped by his sister-in-law Louisa Gurney Hoare. He also opposed capital punishment and pushed for its abolition. Although he never accomplished this last goal during his lifetime, he worked to restrict those crimes for which capital punishment was sentenced; the number of crimes punishable by death was reduced from more than 200 to eight.
Thomas and Hannah Buxton had eight children. Four of them died of whooping cough over a five-week period around April 1820. Another one died of tuberculosis (consumption) some time later. Hannah would send boxes of toys to the missionary Anna Hinderer in Nigeria in 1855. By 1866 her grandchildren were parcelling up toys to send to Nigeria.
The slave trade had been abolished in 1807, but Buxton began to work for the abolition of the institution of slavery. In 1823 he helped found the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery (later known as the Anti-Slavery Society). In the House of Commons in May 1823, Buxton introduced a resolution condemning the state of slavery as "repugnant to the principles of the British constitution and of the Christian religion", and called for its gradual abolition "throughout the British colonies". He also pressured the government to send dispatches to the colonies to improve the treatment of slaves. Buxton took over as leader of the abolition movement in the British House of Commons after William Wilberforce retired in 1825.
He presented a petition to the House of Commons bearing 187,000 signatures. This had been partly organised by Priscilla Buxton in 1833, and the first two signatures were Amelia Opie's and hers. He had achieved his goal when slavery was officially abolished in the British Empire, except in India and Ceylon. Buxton held his seat in Parliament until 1837.
In 1839 Buxton urged the British government to make treaties with African leaders to abolish the slave trade. The government in turn backed the Niger expedition of 1841 (not including Buxton) put together by missionary organizations, which was also going to work on trade. More than 150 people were part of the expedition, which reached the Niger Delta and began negotiations. The British suffered such high mortality from fevers, with more than 25% of the group dying rapidly, that they cut short the mission in 1841.
David Livingstone was strongly influenced by Buxton's arguments that the African slave trade might be destroyed through the influence of "legitimate trade" (in goods) and the spread of Christianity. He became a missionary in Africa and fought the slave trade all his life.
On 30 July 1840 Buxton was created a baronet. His health failed gradually – according to some, due to disappointment over the failed mission to Africa. He died five years later and was buried at Overstrand.
Founding RSPCA chairman
On 16 June 1824 a meeting was held at Old Slaughter's Coffee House, St Martin's Lane, London, that created the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (It became the RSPCA when Queen Victoria gave royal assent in 1840.) The 22 founding members included William Wilberforce, Richard Martin, Sir James Mackintosh, Basil Montagu, and Reverend Arthur Broome. Buxton was appointed chairman for the year 1824.
Legacy and honours
- A monument to him stands in Westminster Abbey.
- A memorial to the emancipation of slaves, dedicated to Buxton, was installed in Victoria Tower Gardens. Commissioned by his son Charles Buxton MP, the Buxton Memorial Fountain was designed by Samuel Sanders Teulon and installed in Parliament Square. In 1940 it was removed during the German bombings of London in World War II. It was installed at its present location in 1957.
- A plaque is dedicated to him in Norwich Cathedral and another at the Norwich Friends Meeting House.
- A bust of him is in St. George's Cathedral, Freetown, Sierra Leone.
- Fowell Close in Norwich is named after him.
- A representation of Buxton is printed on the English five-pound note used between 2002 and 2017. He is the figure wearing glasses in the group to the left of Elizabeth Fry.
- In Weymouth, Dorset, which he served for 19 years as MP, the main route to the Isle of Portland is named Buxton Road. It runs past Belfield House, his former home in Wyke Regis. Work is underway in Weymouth to erect a permanent memorial to him.
Buxton had a number of notable descendants (five sons and six daughters):
Sir Edward North Buxton, 2nd Baronet (1812–1858): married Catherine Gurney (seven sons, five daughters)
- Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 3rd Baronet (1837–1915): married Lady Victoria Noel
- Samuel Gurney Buxton (1838–February 1909), of Catton. High Sheriff of Norfolk for 1891–92
- Edward North Buxton, MP (1840–1924)
- Henry Edmund Buxton (1844–1905)
- Charles Louis Buxton (1846–1906)
- Francis William Buxton (1847–1911)
Thomas Fowell Buxton (1822–1908): Married Rachel Gurney (six sons, five daughters)
- Elizabeth Ellen Buxton (later Barclay) (1848–1919)
- John Henry Buxton (1849–1934): director of Truman, Hanbury, Buxton Brewery, chairman of the London Hospital
- Geoffrey Fowell Buxton (1852–1929): director of Barclays Bank
- Alfred Fowell Buxton (1854–1952): chairman of London County Council
- Barclay Fowell Buxton (1860–1946): missionary
- Murray Barclay Buxton (1889–1940)
- Alfred Barclay Buxton (1891–1940)
- George Barclay Buxton (1892–1917)
- Barclay Godfrey Buxton (1895–1986)
Charles Buxton, MP (1823–1871): married Emily Mary Holland (two sons, four daughters)
- An Enquiry, Whether Crime and Misery are produced or prevented by our present system of Prison Discipline (1818)
- The African Slave Trade and Its Remedy (London: J. Murray, 1839)
- Olwyn Mary Blouet, "Buxton, Sir Thomas Fowell, first baronet (1786–1845)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2010 accessed 25 April 2013.
- "Buxton, Thomas Fowell (1786-1845)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Hugh Morrison; Mary Clare Martin (20 January 2017). Creating Religious Childhoods in Anglo-World and British Colonial Contexts, 1800-1950. Taylor & Francis. p. 108. ISBN 978-1-315-40876-7.
- The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840, Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1841, National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG599, Given by British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in 1880
- Sheridan 2002, p. 247.
- Genius of Universal Emancipation. B. Lundy. 1833. p. 174.
- "No. 19872". The London Gazette. 7 July 1840. p. 1599.
- Antony Brown, Who Cares For Animals? 150 Years of the RSPCA (London: Heinemann,1974), 16. Kathryn Shevelow, For the Love of Animals: The Rise of the Animal Protection Movement (New York: Henry Holt, 2009), 269 & 280.
- Edward G. Fairholme and Wellesley Pain, A Century of Work for Animals: The History of the R.S.P.C.A., 1824–1934(London: John Murray, 1934), 54 & 301. Arthur W. Moss, Valiant Crusade: The History of the R.S.P.C.A. (London: Cassell, 1961), pp. 22–23. Brown, Who Cares For Animals?, p. 16.
- Work is underway for a monument to honour former MP, Thomas Fowell Buxton
- Foster, J. The royal lineage of our noble and gentle families. p. 138.
- Clare Midgley, "Buxton , Priscilla (1808–1852)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2015 accessed 25 June 2017
- Barclay, Oliver (2001). Thomas Fowell Buxton and the liberation of slaves. York: William Sessions.
- Binney, Thomas (1853) . Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, Bart. A study for young men. London: J. Nisbet & Co.
- Buxton, Charles, ed. (1848). Memoirs of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton Bart. London.
- Buxton, Thomas (2009) [first published 1818]. An Inquiry, whether Crime and Misery are Produced or Prevented, by our Present System of Prison Discipline. Cambridge Library Collection - British and Irish History, 19th Century. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-00492-3.
- Folett, Richard R. (2008). "After Emancipation: Thomas Fowell Buxton and Evangelical Politics in the 1830s". Parliamentary History. 27: 119–129.
- Laidlaw, Zoe (2004). "Aunt Anna's Report': The Buxton Women and the Aborigines Select Committee, 1835–37". Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. 32: 1–28.
- Rodriguez, Junius P. (2007). Encyclopedia of Emancipation and Abolition in the Transatlantic World. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
- Sheridan, Richard B. (2002). "The Condition of slaves on the sugar plantations of Sir John Gladstone in the colony of Demerara 1812 to 1849" (pdf). New West Indian Guide. 76 (3/4): 243–269.
- Temperley, Howard (1972). British antislavery, 1833–1870. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.
- Walls, Andrew (1991). The Legacy of Thomas Fowell Buxton. International Bulletin of Missionary Research. 15. pp. 74–77.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Buxton, Sir Thomas Fowell.|
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Thomas Buxton
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
| Member of Parliament for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis
With: 4-seat constituency until 1832, then 2-seat
Masterton Ure, to 1832
Thomas Wallace, 1818–1828
John Gordon, 1826–1832
Edward Sugden, 1828–1831
Richard Weyland, 1831
Charles Baring Wall, 1831–1832
Sir Frederick George Johnstone, 1832–1835
William Wharton Burden, from 1835
George William Hope
|Baronetage of the United Kingdom|
|New creation|| Baronet
Edward North Buxton