BUXTON, Robert John (1753-1839), of Shadwell Lodge, Norf.
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Family and Education
b. 27 Oct. 1753, 1st s. of John Buxton of Tibenham and Rushford by Elizabeth, da. and h. of John Jacob of Tockenham, Wilts. m. 22 May 1777, Juliana Mary, da. of Sir Thomas Beevor, 1st Bt., of Hethel, Norf. 1s. 2da. suc. fa. 1782; cr. Bt. 4 Nov. 1800.
Lt.-col. Norf. vol. cav. 1797.
Buxton, a Norfolk squire, was returned for Thetford on the interest of the Duke of Grafton in 1790. He had previously received some encouragement at the Norwich by-election of 1786, which his father-in-law contested. In 1796 he gave up Thetford and informed Pitt, whose steady supporter he was, that he was ‘not at all anxious to obtain a seat’: he had just been given an unexpected opportunity to stand for the county of Norfolk against the Whig Coke of Holkham, but the offer came too late in the day to tempt him. He seconded the nomination of Sir John Wodehouse instead and replied to Coke’s attack on government in his nomination speech; he was thought to have a good chance at the next vacancy. Anticipating that Wodehouse would vacate with a peerage, he hinted to Pitt that he would be ready; but meanwhile he had to discourage another candidate for the county, who withdrew only on being offered the preference on the next vacancy; and he received an invitation to stand on the vacancy at Great Yarmouth at the instigation of the mayor, his kinsman by marriage Sir Edmund Lacon. Having canvassed, he found that a contest was certain and, fearing the expense on family grounds, decided to withdraw, although Pitt induced him to remain the ostensible candidate until a successor could be found. Buxton opposed the Whig county meeting calling for the dismissal of ministers in April 1797, but did not come forward at the county by-election later that year. He came in instead for Bedwyn on the interest of the Earl of Ailesbury, a neighbour of his in the Wiltshire property he had acquired from his mother. Buxton retained this seat in 1802, when Ailesbury was confident that his ‘diligent attendance’ in Parliament would enable him to propose himself and his colleague to the electors without demur.1
Buxton was one of the more articulate country gentlemen in the House. He informed them, 9 Feb. 1795, that he had been a magistrate for 20 years and in his maiden speech, 9 Feb. 1791, criticized the transportation of offenders. On 30 May 1791 he announced that illness alone had prevented him from being a zealous advocate of the abolition of the slave trade; and if he voted for gradual abolition in 1792 it was because he expected it to be carried at once. On 26 Feb. 1793, alarmed by the spread of radical doctrines, he was for delay; but on 22 May reverted to his preference for total abolition. On 18 Feb. 1796 he said he had always favoured abolition ‘and could he, as an Englishman, do otherwise?’. On 7 Mar. he described the slave trade as ‘a disgrace to England’ and on 15 Mar. voted for its abolition. He returned to this theme on 3 Apr. 1798 and 30 May 1804.
Buxton supported the Stockbridge election bill, to eliminate corruption in that borough, in the session of 1793, but, friend of reform as he claimed to be, thought the present crisis ‘unfit’ for more ambitious proposals, 7 May. He explained that he had favoured armament against Russia and saw himself vindicated in the loss of Polish liberty: England must now likewise resist French principles. He supported the militia augmentation, 17 Mar. 1794, and on 26 Mar. described the war as a just and necessary, defensive one on England’s part. Henceforward he was not infrequently a government teller. He justified the suspension of habeas corpus, 17 May 1794, and on 30 Dec. claimed that he ‘would rather spend his last shilling, and shed the last drop of his blood, than submit to treat with the present rulers of France’. He approved the tax on luxuries such as hair-powder (a waste of wheat), 21 Jan. 1795, and wished the privilege of franking to be regulated, or better, abolished, 26 Mar. 1794, 23 Feb. 1795; but failed to carry the House with him, 6 Mar. He was pained to hear of the Prince of Wales’s insolvency, 27 Apr. 1795, and voted for Sumner’s amendment, 1 June. On 29 Oct. he decried false hopes of peace, and blamed the grain famine on a bad harvest, not on the war, just as he had blamed the distress of the Norwich weavers on competition from Manchester and abroad on 23 Feb. He was a spokesman for legislation against sedition, 10 Nov. 1795. The welfare of the poor was often upon his lips, 8 Apr. 1794, 9 Feb. 1795; but he favoured Lord’s Day observance, 19 Mar. 1795 (he admitted, 30 May 1799, that the upper classes set a bad example), and objected to attempts to regulate labourers’ wages, 9 Dec. 1795, 12 Feb. 1796, invoking Norfolk opinion in support. He disliked ‘agrarian laws’, 16, 29 Feb. He deplored the Game Laws, 16 Feb., but did not think they could hastily be replaced, 4 Mar.; it seems he first approved Curwen’s bill on the subject, 29 Apr., and objected to it three days later. (On 25 Feb. 1799 he was asked to help bring in a bill to curb poaching.) He welcomed the dog tax, 5, 15 Apr. 1796, as ‘a regulation of police, and a very good one’ but, unlike Pitt, thought it should operate on the poor as well as on the rich. He frustrated Lechmere’s bill to regulate the sale of corn in the public market, 11 May 1796.
On his return to the House, Buxton complained of a riot that had endangered his life in Norfolk, and that the burden of the prosecution fell on magistrates who were left with ‘empty purses’: he therefore favoured some measure of relief for them, 2 Mar. 1798. On 4 Apr., apropos of the land tax redemption bill, he protested that too much of the public burden had fallen on the landed interest since 1688 and suggested that there should be no further land tax without an equal tax on all property. He defended the bill in question, 23 Apr., but on 18 May proposed an amendment embodying his suggestion. It was defeated by 123 votes to 63. He succeeded, however, in thwarting a clause proposed by the solicitor-general for the bill on 31 May, by 43 votes to 40. He approved the income tax, 17,19 Dec. 1798. On 22 Apr. 1799 he replied to Burdett’s criticism of union with Ireland and on 21 May denied his charges that political prisoners were ill-treated. He supported the combination bill against trade unions, 10, 26 June. He led the opposition to Plumer’s motion for a call of the House, 25 Sept., justifying the expedition to Holland as a defensive measure. He vindicated the renewed suspension of habeas corpus, 13, 19 Feb. 1800. He opposed wage regulation, 11, 14 Feb., denied that the war was the cause of the high price of wheat, 18 Feb., and opposed the encouragement of potato growing, unless on waste land, 19 Feb., 14 Mar. He denied allegations that the Irish contingent would add to the power of the crown, 25 Apr. 1799; they would strengthen ‘the democratic part of the constitution’. He disclaimed the restoration of the Bourbons as a war aim, 8 May 1800, and on 5 June said he was willing to give one-tenth of his income for ten or 20 years to resist the French. He opposed Western’s motion favourable to peace, 9 July.
Buxton was complimented with a baronetcy in November 1800. He regretted Pitt’s displacement and ‘wished he himself had no business to be in the House’.2 But he so far relented as to welcome Addington to power, 16 Feb. 1801, and, while he now concentrated on measures of policing rather than policy, he was a member of the committee on and welcomed continuation of martial law in Ireland, 27 May, stating that Pitt’s ministry had saved the country and that as long as Addington’s acted upon the same principles he would support it. Of the peace, he wrote that ‘considering all things [it] is as good as we had reason to expect’, 24 Oct.3 On 12 Apr. 1802 he opposed Burdett’s motion censuring Pitt’s record during the war. He was a critic of enforced residence of the clergy and of their practising agriculture, 11 May, 9 June 1801, 3 May 1803; nor would he support the curates relief bill, 2 Dec. 1803. As an agricultural protectionist, he opposed the West India sugar planters’ lobby, 9 Dec. 1801, 15 Mar. 1802, 30 Mar. 1803. He supported Sir Robert Peel’s proposals to regulate child labour in the factories, 6, 14 Apr., 4 May 1802. He was placed on the committee to investigate the Prince of Wales’s duchy revenues, 17 Feb. 1802, and on 4 Mar. 1803 moved the previous question against further review. He joined Pitt’s minority for the orders of the day, 3 June 1803. On 6 July, not for the first time, he cleared the gallery, during the debate on defence. He described himself as ‘no friend to innovation’ when he favoured the throwing open of such boroughs as Aylesbury, where corruption had prevailed, 23 Mar. 1804. That month he was listed a Pittite, voting for Pitt’s naval motion of 15 Mar., against the Irish volunteer bill, 16 Apr., and supporting Pitt’s defence motion of 25 Apr., which led to Addington’s fall.
Listed a supporter of Pitt’s second ministry, he gave his hearty concurrence to his additional force bill, 8, 15 June 1804, and paid tribute to his zeal as an advocate of slave trade abolition, 13 June. He objected to the tax on agricultural horses, 19 Feb. 1805, and helped to defeat it, 12 Mar. On 29 Apr. he informed the House that, had illness not kept him away, he would have voted in the majority against Melville and he now seconded the motion for investigation of the charges made against him. On 25 June he seconded the motion to proceed against Melville by impeachment and next day proceeded with other Members to the other House to announce their decision in favour of it.
Buxton paid tribute to Pitt in the House, 27 Jan. 1806, sure that he would be ‘immortalised by that constitution which he had saved’. He wished Pitt’s debts to be paid by subscription, but was prepared to move the public payment of them: when he was advised to hesitate, another Member took it up.4 He quarrelled with the Grenville ministry, voting against their repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, and objecting, on behalf of the landed interest, to their refusal of exemptions to landlords from the property tax for repairs, 1, 25 Apr. and 7 May. He failed to secure the exemption by 129 votes to 51, 12 May, and in his last protest on the subject, 28 May, claimed that the landowners were paying 13 per cent tax to the fund-holders’ ten per cent. He also objected to the tax on private brewers, 19 May, 6 June. His last speech in the House was on the election treating bill, 9 June 1806. He had welcomed it, 21 Mar., and now held out against any expenses that electors felt entitled to claim from candidates. On 17 June he voted against the American intercourse bill.
Buxton did not seek re-election in 1806, informing a friend that he was relieved to be out of Parliament. ‘The times are too dismal to talk upon’, he added. In the Norfolk election he supported John Wodehouse against Coke and Windham and complained bitterly of ministerial interference on behalf of the latter. He refused to stand in place of Wodehouse in 1807, but remained active in local affairs. He regarded himself as an independent country gentleman whose conduct he would permit the world to scrutinize, jealous of the honour of the House, and devoted to the probity of public life. In 1809 he was a critic of the notion that a Member ‘is to be governed by the political principles of his constituents’.5 He died 7 June 1839.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. PRO 30/8/141, ff. 239-45; 184, ff. 46-48; 191, f. 11; W. Suff. RO, Grafton mss 423/807; Ailesbury mss, Ailesbury to Bruce, 1, 2 July 1802.
- 2. Colchester, i. 230.
- 3. PRO 30/9/1, pt. 1/2, Buxton to Abbot, 24 Oct. 1801.
- 4. Rose Diaries, ii. 238, 241.
- 5. R. Fulford, Glyn’s 1753-1953, p. 65; Camb. Univ. Lib. Buxton mss, Buxton to Harbord, 21 Feb., to Wodehouse, 24 Feb. 1807; Wilts. RO 9, Ailesbury mss, Buxton to Ailesbury, 23 May 1809.