George Keate

George Keate (1729–1797) was a first cousin of Elizabeth Macie and Henrietta Maria Walker. He served as a trustee of Walker’s marriage settlement, and was therefore involved in all subsequent legal matters, including those described in the Hungerford Deed. Keate was the son of George Keate the elder, the younger brother of John Keate (Macie and Walker’s father). Thanks to family connections, after his education, he took up a job in estate management, before entering the Inner Temple society, one of the four London-based associations for English legal professionals.1 Soon after, he qualified as a practicing lawyer. In the Hungerford Deed, he is identified by his Inner Temple membership.

Illustration of a large building with many windows and enclosed in a gate. Keate was presumably asked to be a trustee for the Walkers because of his legal training, along with his family connection—but the personal relationship with Walker and Macie might have complicated matters. Two years prior to the Walkers’ marriage, Macie and Walker sued Keate and other cousins while claiming their brother’s Hungerford inheritance.2 At the core of this conflict was a disagreement over whether Lumley Hungerford Keate, Macie, and Walker were entitled to family properties, including Studley House. So why would the Walkers ask this potentially estranged cousin to serve as a trustee? He was probably the most convenient choice, but we may never know their reasons.

Portrait of George Keate. He is wearing a white wig and a coat with fur trims. Below the portrait reOther than these family matters, Keate’s legal career didn’t last long after he passed the bar. When he inherited his father’s estate at the age of 25 upon the death of his mother—roughly one year after becoming a lawyer—Keate settled instead into a life of leisure, preferring poetic and artistic pursuits to professional law work.3 

In addition to his art and poetry, Keate was also a keen naturalist, like his young cousin, James Smithson. He even collected specimens in a custom-built museum next door to the family home on Charlotte Street in London,4 and even gifted some of his collections to a fascinated Smithson.5 Might this homemade family museum have inspired the adult Smithson’s thinking when he envisioned an institution “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge”? Keate bolstered his collections through the many acquaintances and connections he had due to his position in society as well as friendships struck up on journeys like his European Grand Tour in the 1750s. The celebrated French author, Voltaire, for example, remained a lifelong correspondent of Keate’s, and their letters are now kept in the British Library.6 His drawings have also been collected by the British Museum, where he is identified as an artist and naturalist, rather than a lawyer.7

Artwork of a town near a waterfall. People are working and talking near the water. The drawing incluBut George Keate was not the only extended family member to influence Smithson. Keate, like his cousins Macie and Walker, passed along the Hungerford family’s passionate temperament to his offspring. Georgiana, Keate’s daughter, inherited a love of natural history and family legacy from her father, but nothing else—because in a fit of pique, Keate disinherited Georgiana after she chose to marry her sweetheart against his wishes.8 To fill this void, Georgiana nurtured relationships with other family members, including her cousin Smithson. On one occasion, Georgiana recorded in her diary that the two spent hours puzzling out their Hungerford family tree.9 An interest in natural history united them as children, but as adults, they turned to ancient family history instead of painful current family matters. 


Susan Bennett, A Thankless Child: The Life and Times of Georgiana Jane Henderson (1771–1850) (self-pub.,, 2020), 9–10. Records of the Inner Temple show that Keate was admitted to the society July 6, 1751, and called to the bar July 6, 1753; on November 11, 1791, he was awarded the senior title of Bencher. See “Inner Temple Admissions Database,” Inner Temple Archives, accessed February 24, 2021. Back to text

Macie v Blake, 1767, C 12/1250/27, The National Archives, London. While not named in the title of the suit, George Keate was listed as a defendant alongside relatives Robert Duke, Abigail Blake, and Southcott Hungerford Luttrell. Back to text

Bennett, A Thankless Child, 10–11. Back to text

4 Bennett, A Thankless Child, 19–20. Back to text

5 Heather Ewing, The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian (New York: Bloomsbury, 2007), 101. Back to text

6 Bennett, A Thankless Child, 11. For Keate and Voltaire’s letters, see “TWENTY-SIX original letters of François Marie Arouet de Voltaire to George Keate [F.R.S., F.S.A., Bencher of the Inner Temple] on personal, literary, and political subjects, with two notes written on the back of playing-cards; 1757-1777,” Add MS 30991, British Library. Back to text

7 “George Keate,” British Museum, accessed July 28, 2021. Back to text

8 Bennett, A Thankless Child, 92–93. See Will of George Keate, Gentleman of Isleworth, Middlesex, May 20, 1738, PROB 11/689/317, The National Archives, London, for Keate’s vitriolic description of his disinherited daughter. Back to text

9 Bennett, A Thankless Child, 116–118; Ewing, The Lost World of James Smithson, 206–207. Back to text