History's HEROES? 1786 - 1845

Thomas Fowell Buxton

Who was he?

Things you may not know about Thomas Fowell Buxton

He was sent away to school at a very young age. More
He was friends with his father's gamekeeper and loved countryside pursuits. More
His mother was a strong-minded woman with her own ideas about bringing up children. More
Thomas did not work hard at school and left at 15 years of age. More
A visit to the Gurney family in Norfolk changed his life. He later married Hannah Gurney. More
He became a great believer in hard work, research and study. More
He qualified from Trinity College, Dublin, with the highest possible honour. More
Whilst working at a brewery, he had a very lucky escape. More
He helped raise thousands of pounds for the poor weavers in Spitalfields. More
His book 'An Enquiry into Prison Discipline' had a great impact. More
Thomas was father to 11 children but only five survived to adulthood. Four of his children died over a period of just five weeks. More
In parliament he always voted according to his conscience, and his speeches were clear and sincere. More
In his fight to end slavery, he had to withstand enormous pressure and abuse from all sides. More
He strove to promote the wellbeing of his poorer neighbours. More
He was extremely kind and unable to deny relief to the poor even when it was asked for many times. More
He was very fond of horses and dogs. More
He was once ejected from parliament, for cheering too loudly. More
He was a good host and an involved family man. More
He thought children should be taught to seek the truth even if this went against previous opinions. More
Thomas was extraordinarily tall. More
He cared so much it destroyed his health. More
Following his death tributes were paid in both England and Africa. More

Thomas Fowell Buxton in brief

With ordinary talents and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.

Thomas Fowell Buxton was a compassionate and selfless man who dedicated much of his life to championing the cause of enslaved people and other Africans whose rights were being trampled on. He also found the time to help the poor, campaign to improve conditions in prisons and reduce the number of crimes that carried the death sentence. 

A committed Christian, he entered parliament in 1818 and worked hard to bring about the complete abolition of slavery within the British Empire, sometimes withstanding enormous pressure and abuse. He once said: "My character is of very little consequence. Indeed, have I not long ago learnt that I must sacrifice that, as well as almost all else, to this Cause?"

He also helped introduce laws which protected the rights of Africans and others who came into contact with white settlers. His final scheme was an attempt to start a trade with Africa in goods other than slaves. The failure of this attempt discredited him, and led to his early death. However, it was a noble experiment, motivated by a deep concern for the welfare of Africans.

Unlike most other Europeans at the time, Thomas wished to bring about a situation in which Europeans and Africans dealt with each other on an equal footing, whether in politics, commerce or religion. He had the power to understand and sympathise with those who were suffering both at home and abroad, and make their causes his own. The compassion this aroused in him caused him to fight for their rights and justice.  As his friend J.J. Cunningham (1847) said: "His sympathy was often awakened by men he had never seen and he gave the best years of his life to their welfare". 

Thomas Fowell Buxton Picture Gallery

See also the Norfolk Record Office (Slavery and Abolition section for teachers)


Source documents

Speech Extract
Abolition of Slavery
E2B® and E2BN® are registered trade marks and trading names of East of England Broadband Network (Company Registration No. 04649057)
Terms and Conditions