Lives of the fellows

William Musgrave

b.4 November 1655 d.23 December 1721
FRS MD Oxon(1689) FRCP(1692)

William Musgrave, MD, was the third son of Richard Musgrave, of Nettlecombe, in the county of Somerset, esquire, and was born 4th November, 1655. He was educated at Winchester, whence he proceeded to New college, Oxford. He passed one session at Leyden, and was entered on the physic line there 28th March, 1680. Returning to Oxford he was admitted bachelor of civil law 14th June, 1682. He removed to London before he had taken a degree in medicine, and distinguishing himself greatly by his knowledge of natural philosophy and physic, was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He was appointed secretary to that Society in 1684, and in this capacity edited the “Philosophical Transactions” from No 167 to 178 inclusive. On his retirement from office in December, 1684, he was presented by the society with a handsome service of plate. He returned to Oxford, and on the 8th December, 1685, was admitted bachelor of medicine by decree of Convocation. He practised his faculty for a time at Oxford, and proceeded doctor of medicine 6th July, 1689.

Dr Musgrave was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 22nd December, 1690, and a Fellow 30th September, 1692. In 1691 he settled at Exeter, where he practised for thirty years with great success and reputation. His house was in St Lawrence parish, at the head of Trinity-lane, now called Musgrave-alley after him, for in it he restored and enlarged the chapel of the Holy Trinity, which had fallen into a state of dilapidation. Dying on the 23rd December, 1721, he chose a grave in the churchyard of St Leonard’s (out of the city), “because he was of opinion that the burial of the dead in cities was unwholesome for the living,” an example worthy of imitation. Such is the memorandum in the register of that parish. Doubtless for the same reason his wife Philippa, daughter of William Speke of Jordan near White Lackington, who died full six years before him, had been buried there. Their altar tomb at St Leonard’s bore the following inscription:-
Willielmi Musgrave Med: Doct:
Richardi Musgrave de Nettlecombe
in comitatu Somerset: filii natu tertii
nuper è Novo Collegio Oxon:
è Regia Societate; Coll: Regali
Medicorum Londinensi:
Practici Exoniensis non infelicis
Natus est 4to Novs AD 1655. Obiit 23 Decs 1721
Hic jacet etiam uxor ejus
Philippa, Willielmi Speke de
Jordan prope White Lackington filia:
Quæ obiit Nov 14 1715, ætatis suæ 55.(1)

When Dr Stukeley visited Exeter, 19th August, 1723, he saw in the garden of his friend Dr William Musgrave (son of the subject of this sketch) what myself saw in 1853, in the same place and in excellent preservation, the colossal head of the empress Julia Domna (consort to Lucius Septimus Severus, who died at York AD 211), dug up at Bath, which our physician had called Andromache. “It is the noblest relique of British antiquity of this sort that we know; it is 21 inches from the top of the attire to the chin, and belonged to a statue of 12 feet proportion.” In the same place is the inscription of Camilius - a tribute of gratitude to the memory of a benefactress, and still perfectly distinct.

In 1703 Dr Musgrave published a treatise de Arthritide Symptomaticâ, 8vo., printed at Exeter by Farley; and in 1708, de Arthritide Anomalâ, from the press of Farley and Bliss. His work on the epitaph of Julius Vitalis, an inscription discovered at Bath in 1709, entitled Julii Vitalis Epitaphium cum Commentario, was published at Exeter in 1711, and was highly commended by Walter Moyle. He next printed de Legionibus Epistola, addressed to Sir Hans Sloane, Bart; and in 1713, de Aquilis Romanis Epistola, addressed to Gilbert Cuper, consul at Deventer, who had affirmed that the Roman eagles were of massy gold or silver, while our author maintained that they were only plated over. Moyle confirms this last opinion by several arguments. In 1715 Dr Musgrave published
Geta Britannicus: accedit Domus Severianæ Synopsis Chronologica: et de Icunculâ quondam M Regis Ælfridi dissertatio:
being observations on a fragment of an equestrian stone statue found near Bath, which the doctor believed to have been set up in honour of Geta, after his arrival in Britain, together with a chronological synopsis of the family of Severus; and a dissertation upon a piece of Saxon antiquity found at Athelney in Somersetshire, being the amulet of king Alfred the Great

Dr Musgrave’s great work, however, was the
Antiquitates Belgicæ, præcipuè Romanæ, figuris illustratæ:
in four volumes, 8vo., printed at Exeter in 1711, 1716, 1719, 1720; being an account of that part of South Britain formerly inhabited by the Belgæ, comprehending Hants, Wilts, and Somersetshire
. For this work, king George I graciously presented the author with a diamond ring, “annulum aureum adamante ornatum,” which the Heralds’ college allowed him to adopt for the family crest, by their grant bearing date 6th August, 1720. Dr Musgrave contributed some papers to the Philosophical Transactions. He also left behind him in MS a treatise
De Arthritide Primigeniâ et Regulari,
which was published many years afterwards (1776) by his relative, Dr Samuel Musgrave.

By his wife Philippa Speke, Dr Musgrave left an only son, William, educated at King’s college, Cambridge, as a member of which he proceeded MB in 1718. He settled as a physician in Exeter, but did not long survive, and dying in November, 1724, was buried on the 24th of that month in his father’s vault at St Leonard’s.

For many of the particulars in this sketch I am indebted to the kindness of my learned friend the late Very Rev George Oliver, DD of Exeter.

William Munk

[(1) The altar tomb erected to Dr Musgrave’s memory in St Leonard’s churchyard, now dismantled and its panels let into the vestry walls, was a fine specimen of allegoric sculpture. “The four sides,” wrote the late Dr Oliver, “were enriched with marble sculpture, emblematical of Dr Musgrave’s antiquarian researches. In the first panel was a reclining female figure, near her another erect pointing to Mercury with his Caduceus: behind Mercury appeared a venerable sage. In the second panel, a man extended on the ground held up a mask, above an angel on the wing exhibited, ‘the ring.’ In front a pyramid, at whose base was attached a plume of feathers; on the opposite corner a dragon was seen issuing from its den. In the third, Time with his feet chained, was seen holding a chart of Belgium, and looking back on fragments of medallions and inscriptions; one of the latter is of Julius Vitalis, a Belgian and stipendiary of the XXth legion. And lastly, in the fourth compartment, a female seated points to a scroll held up by a man preparing to use the implements of writing. On a table stands the figure of Mars armed with a spear.”]

(Volume I, page 486)

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