Buxton, Sydney Charles, Earl Buxton 1853-1934, statesman, was born in London 25 October 1853, the younger son of the liberal politician Charles Buxton [qv.], by his wife, Emily Mary, eldest daughter of the physician Sir Henry Holland [qv.]. He was grandson of the philanthropist Sir T. F. Buxton [qv.]. He was educated at Clifton and Trinity College, Cambridge. He served on the London School Board from 1876 to 1882, and after unsuccessfully contesting Boston as a liberal in 1880 was returned for Peterborough at a by-election in 1883. He was defeated at the general election of 1885, but sat for the Poplar division of the Tower Hamlets from 1886 to 1914. In 1880 he made his first mark in politics by publishing his Handbook to Political Questions of the Day which passed through eleven editions. He was under-secretary of state for the Colonies from 1892 to 1895 and the first Matabele war brought him into contact with native problems in Africa. In 1905 he was appointed postmaster-general, with a seat in the Cabinet, and sworn of the Privy Council. He introduced penny postage to the United States of America, the Canadian magazine post, and cheap postage for the blind. Appointed president of the Board of Trade in 1910, he introduced and passed the Copyright Act of 1911, the unemployment section of the National Insurance Act of 1912, the Miners' Minimum Wage Act of 1912, and the Bankruptcy Act of 1913, and, in the last-named year, extended the Trade Boards Act to other trades. After the loss of the Titanic in 1912 he issued stringent regulations for the preservation of life at sea.
In February 1914, on appointment as governor-general of the Union of South Africa, Buxton was appointed G.C.M.G., and in May was raised to the peerage as Viscount Buxton, of Newtimber, in Sussex. He arrived at the moment of the outbreak of war and was at once faced with the very serious crisis of the rebellion, which for a moment threatened to cut him off in Pretoria from the rest of the Union. But General Louis Botha [qv.] had taken the momentous decision to side with Great Britain in the struggle. Buxton and Botha worked together most cordially. They saw harmony restored within the Union, carried through the campaign in South-West Africa, and supported both the long campaign in East Africa and the valuable contribution made by South Africa on the western front in France. Although Buxton's presence was needed at Cape Town and Pretoria, he travelled frequently and acquired great influence with the Dutch backveld farmers, who found him accessible and sympathetic, and appreciated his receptions of their synods and assemblies; while Lady Buxton took an active part in the work of adapting social conditions, especially in Cape Town, to the conditions of war. Buxton's term of office was extended until 1920, and at his retirement there were striking demonstrations of the feeling of affection which he and Lady Buxton had inspired. The University of Cape Town conferred an honorary degree upon him, and on his return to England he was raised to an earldom. Of his work as governor-general, General Smuts has said: His close personal friendship with General Botha gave him a special position, and I know how much General Botha was influenced by his wise counsel and ripe experience. — Self-government in Rhodesia was largely due to his favourable report, and time has justified his wise advice. After his return he continued to work for South Africa, largely through the Africa Society, of which he was president from 1920 to 1933 and the gold medal of which was awarded to him in 1930.
Although his sympathy with the working classes led him to modify his earlier strictly Gladstonian views, Buxton supported the liberal party, and remained in full sympathy with his old friend and colleague Lord Grey of Fallodon. In 1924 he spoke against the labour scheme for nationalizing the Bank of England. His publications include Mr. Gladstone's Irish Bills (1886), Finance and Politics: an historical study 1783-1885 (2 vols., 1888), Mr. Gladstone as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1901), Fishing and Shooting (1902), The Arguments on either side of the Fiscal Question (1903), and General Botha (1924).
Owing to an injury to his knee as a schoolboy, Buxton, at the age of seventy-seven, had to suffer the amputation of his leg. He died at Newtimber Place 15 October 1934 and was buried at Newtimber. He was twice married: first, in 1882 to Constance Mary (died 1892), second daughter of John Lubbock, first Lord Avebury [qv.], and had two sons, who both predeceased their father, the younger in childhood, and one daughter; secondly, in 1896 to Mildred Anne, elder daughter of Hugh Colin Smith, governor of the Bank of England, of Mount Clare, Roehampton, and had one son, who was killed in action in 1917, and two daughters, the elder of whom predeceased her father.
A portrait of Buxton, by Edward Roworth, is in the House of Assembly at Cape Town. A cartoon, by Spy, appeared in Vanity Fair 2 January 1907.
The Times, 16 and 17 October 1934
Lord Buxton, General Botha, 1924
Contributor: E. I. Carlyle.