Thomas Fowell Buxton was MP for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis from 1818 until 1837. His prime achievement was leading the abolitionist MPs and spearheading through Parliament the Bill for the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833. Thomas Fowell Buxton is therefore not only an important part of our town's cultural heritage but he is also of national and international interest.
1786 Thomas Fowell Buxton was born at Castle Hedingham in Essex. A year later the family moved to Earls Colne, Essex, where he was brought up with his four siblings: Anna, Charles, Sarah and Edward North. He attended schools in London, including Charles Burney's Academy in Greenwich. Later he graduated from Trinity College, Dublin.
1806 His widowed mother, Anna Buxton, married Weymouth banker Edmund Henning and moved from Essex to live at Bank house on the developing "Royal Weymouth" Esplanade.
1807 Buxton married Hannah Gurney. She was from a Quaker family in Norfolk. Hannah's sister was Elizabeth Fry of prison reform fame. He was employed at the Trueman and Hanbury Black Eagle Brewery in Spitalfields, London, becoming a partner three years later. He brought in a teacher so that all the brewery employees could learn to read and write.
1814 He inherited Belfield House on the death of his grandmother, Sarah Buxton. He rented the property to his Uncle Charles Buxton.
1815 He gave a donation of £100 towards the rebuilding of St Mary's Church, Weymouth.
1816 Philanthropic work on behalf of poor silk weavers in Spitalfields, London. A public meeting, at which he spoke, resulted in £43,000 being raised to alleviate poverty. He came to the notice of William Wilberforce.
1817 Buried his brother Charles at All Saints Church, Wyke Regis. His brother had been taken ill when staying with family in Weymouth.
1818 Buxton published a book An Inquiry into Prison Discipline. This was a result of visiting Newgate Prison with his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Fry. Later in the year he was elected as MP for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis.
1819 Reflecting his interest in prison reform and criminal law reform, he spoke in Parliament against the deplorable conditions on the convict "Hellships" bound for Australia.
1821 With others he presented a Bill in Parliament to mitigate the sentence of death for crimes such as forgery to that of transportation. Crimes punishable by death were reduced eventually from 230 to 8.
1823 Assumed the leadership of the abolitionists in Parliament, taking over from William Wilberforce.
1827 Buxton was influential in persuading William Bentinck, newly appointed Governor General of India, to abolish suttee; the practice of burning widows alive on the funeral pyres of their husbands in India.
1828 Buxton raised the question in Parliament of the maltreatment of the indigenous Khoi people of South Africa, which led to the Fiftieth Ordinance giving equal rights to white colonists and indigenous peoples, such as the Khoi and Xhosa. In the same year he buried his mother at the old Quaker cemetery in Bridport, Dorset.
1829 Buxton voted for Catholic Emancipation against the wishes of his Dorset electors.
1833 The Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Empire. It came into effect a year later and was the highlight of Buxton's career.
1834 South Australian Colonization Act passed in Parliament. Emigration Officer, John Brown, consulted Buxton on drafting a much needed amendment to guarantee aboriginal land rights in the new colony of South Australia. The letters patent enabling the Act in 1836 included the guarantee.
1835 Buxton was influential in Parliament returning confiscated land to the Xhosa, who were exonerated from starting a war in South Africa. The blame for starting this Caffre War was attributed to the South African militia.
1836 Buxton was appointed chairman of the Aborigenes Committee in Parliament, which reported a year later. This report formed the basis for British colonial policy, helping to ensure the rights of all indigenous people throughout the Empire.
1837 Buxton was not re-elected as MP for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis after serving 19 consecutive years in Parliament and standing as a candidate in 7 riotous elections.
1838 Buxton wrote The Slave Trade and its Remedy advocating the promotion of general trade to replace trade in slaves. Brazil and Cuba still traded in slaves in West Africa. He also advocated passing on the benefits of "Civilisation", including education, and lastly "Christianity" in the burgeoning Empire.
1839-1840 He, his wife and daughter were on a Grand Tour of Italy, where Buxton had an audience with Pope Gregory XVI, who was strongly against slavery. Buxton was impressed by Jesuit missionary success. As a member of the London Missionary Society he was interested in missionary work. The London Missionary Society was originally an evangelical Anglican foundation that attracted people from other like-minded Protestant denominations.
1840 Created a Baronet of "Belfield in the County of Dorset and Runton in the County of Norfolk".
1841-1842 The ill-fated Niger Expedition to West Africa that incorporated his ideas of promoting Commerce, Civilization and Christianity in the rapidly expanding colonies. He did not advocate colonisation but he wanted indigenous peoples to benefit. David Livingstone was influenced by Buxton's ideas.
1845 Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton died at his home in Norfolk, aged 57.