Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Philip Edward Muskett (1857–1909)

by Stephen Garton and Beverley Kingston

This article was published:

Philip Edward Muskett (1857-1909), medical practitioner and health reformer, was born on 5 February 1857 at Collingwood, Melbourne, son of English-born, Particular Baptist parents Charles Muskett, bookseller, and his wife Phoebe, née Charlwood. Educated at Melbourne Model School and at Wesley College, where he won a Draper scholarship, in 1877 Philip enrolled in medicine at the University of Melbourne, passing several subjects, but not graduating. He undertook further medical studies at Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland, and became a licentiate of the Royal colleges of Physicians and of Surgeons, Edinburgh, in 1880. After spending some time in London, he returned to Australia and became a medical officer at (Royal) Melbourne Hospital.

In 1882 Muskett moved to Sydney, taking up a position at Sydney Hospital. Within a year he became surgeon superintendent of the steam immigration service, medical superintendent of the quarantine station and honorary surgeon at Sydney Hospital. He went into private practice in 1885 and, since about a third of his patients were children, focused on infant health and welfare, taking up contemporary concerns about infant mortality rates—in his Australian Appeal, (1892)—and the incidence of rickets. In 1888 he brought out the first of four editions of a small book on the feeding and management of Australian infants and also a more comprehensive guide to The Health and Diet of Children in Australia. In 1891 came his more scientific Prescribing and Treatment in the Diseases of Children. He served as secretary to the New South Wales section of four intercolonial medical congresses in the 1880s and 1890s. In addition, he was medical officer and honorary surgeon to the New South Wales League of Wheelmen, the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales and the Civil Ambulance and Transport Brigade. Remembered by the bookseller James Tyrrell as a keen bibliophile, he was president and chairman of the Sydney School of Arts debating society and a founder of the New South Wales Literary and Debating Society's Union. Muskett discussed the need for more technical education (including compulsory cookery lessons for girls) in his public lectures on health, published in 1899 as The Diet of Australian School Children and Technical Education.

In The Art of Living in Australia (London, 1893), which included recipes by Harriet Wicken, he extended to the population his arguments about feeding children as a whole, advocating radical changes in the diet of Australians. He abhorred their love of meat, tobacco and tea and their lack of interest in vegetables and fruit apart from cabbage and potatoes. Girls and women, he thought, risked their health and childbearing abilities through consuming excessive amounts of tea, bread and butter. Coffee he thought preferable to tea and Australian wine the ideal beverage with meals. More fish and oysters should be substituted for meat. He advocated fresh air, regular exercise, woollen undergarments and pyjamas rather than bed gowns, and advised the use of floss silk as well as powder for teeth. The Book of Diet (Melbourne, 1898), based on his lectures at the recently established Hawkesbury Agricultural College and the School of Arts, was a guide to vegetables, fruit, salads and alcoholic beverages, many of them unfamiliar, with suggestions for their preparation and consumption.

Muskett's last major project, an Illustrated Australian Medical Guide (1903 and 1909), with drawings by D. H. Souter, took three years to write, ran to two volumes and over a thousand pages, and cost three guineas. His straightforward and clear discussion of female diseases and anatomy in 'the female organs of generation', published as a separate pamphlet in 1903 with Souter's coloured illustrations, including a very pregnant woman, made him a pioneer sex-educator. His last work, The Attainment of Health (1909), was a detailed guide to foods to eat or avoid for specific complaints and diseases.

His books were eloquent, idiosyncratic, and repetitive on some of his pet themes. They contained numerous digressions and quotations from philosophers (Montesquieu an understandable favourite), novelists, poets, and authorities, well known and obscure. He was one of the first writers in Australia to realize and cultivate the demand for scientific but easily comprehensible information on childcare, diet and health especially related to local climatic conditions.

A bachelor, Muskett relaxed by writing and walking. Despite his rigorous regimen, he became ill in August 1909 and died of heart failure on 25 August in his rooms at 143 Elizabeth Street, Hyde Park, where he lived with his sister Alice, an artist and writer. He was buried with Anglican rites in Waverley cemetery. In his will Muskett left money for a biennial essay prize on any of his favourite subjects; however, his sister who had already established an art prize in his memory disregarded his instructions. Most of the money disappeared in subsequent litigation. Muskett was rediscovered by the 'lifestyle' enthusiasts of the 1980s, and in 1993 a prize for writing on gastronomy was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Tyrrell, Old Books, Old Friends, Old Sydney (1952)
  • B. Santich, What the Doctors Ordered (Melb, 1995)
  • Australasian Medical Gazette, 20 Sept 1909, p 520
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Aug 1909, p 6
  • Town and Country Journal, 1 Sept 1909, p 53
  • J. Vickers, A Study of Equity Suits and the Judiciary as a Reflection of N.S.W. Society’s Values (M.A. Hons thesis, University of New South Wales, 2002).

Citation details

Stephen Garton and Beverley Kingston, 'Muskett, Philip Edward (1857–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 February, 1857
Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


25 August, 1909 (aged 52)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.