Keate, John (DNB00)

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KEATE, JOHN (1773–1852), head-master of Eton, son of William Keate, brother of Robert Keate [q. v.], and nephew of Thomas Keate [q. v.], was born at Wells in 1773. {anchor+}} (d. 1795), the father, was educated at Eton, where he was on the foundation; entered King's College, Cambridge, where he proceeded M.A. in 1767, became master of the Stamford grammar school, and afterwards rector of Laverton, Somerset. He received the prebend of Combe (fifteenth) in the cathedral of Wells on 31 May 1773, exchanged it for that of Henstridge on 7 May 1794, and died at Chelsea Hospital on 14 March 1795. John Keate was placed on the foundation at Eton in 1784 (cf. Notes and Queries, 4th ser. v. 328), and proceeded to King's College, Cambridge, in 1791. He obtained four of Sir William Browne's medals, 1793–5, and the Craven scholarship in 1794. He was a brilliant writer of Latin verse, and throughout life remained a fine classical scholar. He graduated B.A. 1796, M.A. 1799, and D.D. 1810, and was elected a fellow of his college. About 1797 he became an assistant-master at Eton, and took holy orders. In 1809 he was elected head-master of Eton. When he was appointed the school had a very small staff of masters, and Keate had to control at least 170 boys in one room, ‘the upper school.’ The discipline was extremely bad. In the course of his head-mastership Keate himself was subjected to such indignities as the screwing up and smashing of his desk, the singing of songs in chorus during schooltime, and an occasional fusillade of rotten eggs. Keate from the first set himself to repress such turbulence and disorder. The struggle was long and severe, but although rough and hasty in his methods he gained a complete victory. Innumerable stories are told of his ferocity (many will be found in ‘Etoniana’ and Mr. Maxwell Lyte's ‘History of Eton College’); he flogged more than eighty boys on the same day, 30 June 1832; but as this was the only way of dealing, in his opinion, with disturbances which amounted to attempted rebellion, his only regret, as he once told some old pupils with whom he was dining in Paris, was that he had not flogged them more (Gronow, Reminiscences, ed. Grego, i. 209). Kinglake says: ‘He was little more (if more at all) than five feet in height, and was not very great in girth, but in this space was concentrated the pluck of ten battalions. He had a really noble voice, and this he could moderate with great skill, but he had also the power of quacking like an angry duck, and he almost always adopted this mode of communication in order to inspire respect.’ His courage and real kindness of heart made him popular; the boys cheered him after the great flogging, and subscribed a large sum of money to present him with a testimonial when he left. His constant and successful efforts to reform the discipline of the school were accompanied by a somewhat rigid adherence to conservative modes of teaching, which was partly due to the reactionary influence of the provost, Joseph Goodall [q. v.] But Keate favoured some modern theories of education; he encouraged school debating societies, and at a later date heartily approved Hawtrey's reforms. His skill as a teacher is proved by the successes of Eton boys who passed from his charge to the universities. He retired from the head-mastership in 1834, when, although the upper school consisted of 570 boys, there were still no more than nine masters. Keate was not made provost when a vacancy occurred on Goodall's death in 1840. On 14 March 1820 he had been appointed canon of Windsor, and in the same year accepted the living of Nether Stowey, Somerset, which he exchanged in 1824 for the rectory of Hartley Westpall, Hampshire. There he lived after his resignation. He died at Hartley Westpall on 5 March 1852, and was buried in the churchyard.

Keate's features and figure lent themselves easily to caricature, and various silhouettes and drawings were made at Eton. Robert Dighton published a full-length caricature called ‘A View taken at Eaton,’ which bears little resemblance to its original. He married Frances, daughter of Sir Charles Brown, by whom he had one son, John Charles, who succeeded him in his rectory, and six daughters, of whom Emma married Richard Durnford, bishop of Chichester.

[Maxwell Lyte's Hist. of Eton College; Kinglake's Eöthen, ed. 1859, p. 250; Collins's Etoniana, chap. vi.; Tucker's Life of Bishop Selwyn, vol. i.; Lord Malmesbury's Memoirs of an ex-Minister, i. 16; Gronow's Reminiscences; Men of the Reign; Harwood's Alumni Eton.; Gent. Mag. 1852, i. 521, ii. 218; Ann. Reg. 1852.]

W. A. J. A.