Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Duncan, Philip Bury

DUNCAN, PHILIP BURY (1772–1863), keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, was born in 1772 at South Warnborough, Hampshire, where his father was rector. He was educated at Winchester College (where he afterwards founded the ‘Duncan Prizes’), and at New College, Oxford, of which he became a fellow in 1792. He graduated B.A. 1794, M.A. 1798. Among the school and college friends with whom he continued intimate were Archbishop Howley, Bishop Mant, and Sidney Smith. He was called to the bar in 1796, and for a few years attended the home and the western circuits. From 1801 till his death he lived much at Bath, and promoted many local scientific and philanthropic schemes. He was elected president of the Bath United Hospital in 1841. In 1826 he was made keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, in succession to his elder brother, John Shute Duncan, author of ‘Hints to the Bearers of Walking Sticks and Umbrella,’ anonymous, 3rd edit. 1809; ‘Botano Theology,’ 1825; and ‘Analogies of Organised Beings,’ 1831. Philip Duncan increased the Ashmolean zoological collections, and himself gave many donations. He also presented to the university casts of antique statues and various models. Duncan advocated the claims of physical science and mathematics to a prominent place in Oxford studies. He was instrumental in establishing at Oxford, as also at Bath, a savings bank and a society for the suppression of mendicity. He resigned his keepership in 1855, and was then given the honorary degree of D.C.L. He had published in 1836 ‘A Catalogue of the Ashmolean Museum,’ 8vo, and in 1845 had printed at considerable cost a ‘Catalogue of the MSS. bequeathed by Ashmole to the University of Oxford’ (edited by W. H. Black). Among Duncan's other publications were: 1. ‘An Essay on Sculpture’ [1830?], 8vo. 2. ‘Reliquiæ Romanæ’ (on Roman antiquities in England and Wales), Oxford, 1836, 8vo. 3. ‘Essays on Conversation and Quackery,’ 1836, 12mo. 4. ‘Literary Conglomerate,’ Oxford, 1839, 8vo. 5. ‘Essays and Miscellanea,’ Oxford, 1840, 8vo. 6. ‘Motives of Wars,’ London, 1844, 8vo. Duncan died on 12 Nov. 1863, at Westfield Lodge, his residence, near Bath, aged 91. He was unmarried. He was a man of simple habits and refined tastes. Archbishop Howley said of him and his brother: ‘I question whether any two men with the same means have ever done the same amount of good.’

[Gent. Mag. 1864, 3rd ser. xvi. 122–6; Cat. of Oxf. Grad.; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

W. W.