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What do I have in common with the Titanic and Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage? The answer is actually who, rather than what…and it’s the Earl of Buxton. 

Image published in Vanity Fair, January 2, 1907. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

My 1878 edition of Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage once belonged to Sydney Charles Buxton, the 1st (and last) Earl of Buxton. He was born in 1853 and died in 1934. Sydney Charles was the son of Parliament member Charles Buxton and the grandson of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1st Baronet. 

Sydney Charles Buxton had a prolific political career. A liberal, he got his start by publishing A Handbook to Political Questions of the Day in 1880. He served in Parliament in 1883 and from 1886 to 1914 as part of the Poplar constituency. Buxton then went on to become Under-Secretary for the Colonies between 1892 and 1895. According to the Peerage, he published another book, Fishing and Shooting in 1902.

Buxton served as Postmaster General from 1905 to 1910 under King Edward VII. He was a Privy Counsellor and moved on to become President of the Board of Trade in 1910. This is where the Titanic comes into play. It was Buxton’s job to supervise trade and commerce laws. After the Titanic sank, he requested the formation of an inquiry commission from the Lord Chancellor.  

Buxton was appointed Governer-General of South Africa in 1914, as well as Viscount Buxton of Newtimber. He had a close relationship with General Louis Botha and was instrumental in the attacks on South West Africa during the period of World War I. Positive experiences in Africa prompted Buxton to serve as president of the Africa Society from 1920 to 1933.

Sydney Charles was created Earl Buxton in 1920. In the photos, you can see his bookplate on the inside cover of my book. It depicts the family crest of Sydney’s grandfather, Sir Thomas. According to Family Crest Finder, this crest corresponds to the Earl’s address of 7 Grosvenor Crescent, S.W.

Close inspection of the bookplate reveals a black African face on a small shield. This is called a Moor’s head or Blackamoor. The common explanation of such images is that they were used in European heraldry to symbolize dominance or victory over the Moors. Modern scholars, however, believe that the Blackamoor had a positive connotation, symbolizing the soldier St. Maurice. This latter explanation makes sense, considering Buxton’s supposed positive ties to South Africa. To learn more about Blackamoors, check out Sigillum Secretum. Oddly enough, this very debate popped up at the Winterthur symposium I had just attended this past weekend.

I love how the belt and suspender encircle the buck and Blackamoor. Symbolism, perhaps? All-encompassing and support come to my mind. And you’ve got to love the motto, “Do It With Thy Might.”  

At this point, you might be wondering if there was a connection between Sydney Charles Buxton and Anthony Trollope. In fact, there was. Trollope was a close friend of the Earl’s father, Charles Buxton. The Letters of Anthony Trollope and The Autobiography of Anthony Trollope give several indications of this.

So there you have it, full circle. It’s amazing; the connections one can discover from a bookplate. 

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