Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Hay, Carla

Second Advisor

Naylor, Phillip

Third Advisor

McMahon, Timothy


Born into a gentry family with roots in the Society of Friends, the evangelical social conscience of Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786-1845) was developed as he operated a brewery in Spitalfields, perhaps London's poorest parish. He was instrumental in raising funds for poor relief and establishing soup and bread kitchens there during the winter of 1816-1817. His interest and research on penal discipline brought him national prominence and led to a parliamentary seat which he held for nearly two decades. Buxton's association with noted activist William Wilberforce (1759-1833) led to his own involvement in the anti-slavery movement, a cause he fiercely championed, resulting in Britain's abolition of slavery throughout the Empire in 1834. After leaving Parliament in 1837, Buxton focused on revitalizing Africa through a program to end international slavery and encourage African self-sufficiency. This resulted in the disastrous 1841 Niger expedition that effectively ended Buxton's public career and paved the way to British imperialism in Africa. Buxton was a man of many interests, and aside from his work for penal reform, poor relief, and abolition, he also supported Catholic emancipation and ending the Hindu suttee. Few nineteenth-century social reformers have had as much of an impact or have cast as long a shadow as Buxton. At the time of his death, many saw him as the epitome of Christian activism. Yet, today Buxton remains largely ignored and forgotten.

The intent of this study is to examine the life of one of Great Britain's most prominent social activists. Using his Memoirs, personal papers, and the papers and books of his friends, associates, and contemporaries, I have sought to paint a portrait of an individual driven by religious motives and idealism to improve his world.