Keith, Alexander (d.1819) (DNB00)

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KEITH, ALEXANDER (d. 1819), founder of the Keith prize, was the son of Alexander Keith (1705–1792), an under-clerk in the court of session, by Johanna, third daughter of John Swinton of Swinton, Peeblesshire. His father purchased Dunnottar, Kincardineshire, from the last Earl Marischal in 1766, and his grandfather, Alexander Keith, an Edinburgh writer to the signet, had acquired Ravelston, an estate once belonging to the Keiths, from Sir Archibald Primrose of Dunipace, Stirlingshire, in 1726. The family claimed descent from Alexander Keith of Pittendrum, Aberdeenshire, fourth son of the third Earl Marischal (cf. Douglas, Peerage, ed. Wood, ii. 191, 198). Robert Keith (1681–1757) [q. v.] disputed the claim of Alexander Keith of Ravelston to the headship of the Keith family in ‘A Vindication of Mr. Robert Keith, &c.’ (republished, Spottiswoode Society, 1844). Keith was brought up a writer to the signet, but interested himself in antiquarian pursuits. He was a fellow of the Philosophical and Royal Societies of Edinburgh, and of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; he was a friend of Sir Walter Scott, who was a connection through the Swintons, and who occasionally visited him at Ravelston. Keith died at Dunnottar on 26 Feb. 1819. Scott tells a story illustrating his habitual irresolution (Lockhart, Scott, p. 479). He married, in April 1811, Margaret, youngest daughter of Laurence Oliphant of Gask, and left a son Alexander, who exercised the office of knight-marshal in 1822, when George IV visited Edinburgh, and was created a baronet on that occasion.

Keith contributed a few papers to the ‘Transactions’ of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He left by his will 1,000l. to be applied to the promotion of the interests of science, and his trustees, in a letter to Sir Walter Scott, president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, dated 4 Dec. 1820 (cf. Transactions of the Royal Soc. of Edinb. ix. 259), announced that they had decided to devote 600l. to found a biennial prize ‘for the most important discoveries in science made in any part of the world, but communicated by the author to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and published for the first time in their “Transactions.”’ Among those who have received the Keith prize have been Brewster, Boole, and Clerk Maxwell. The remainder of the bequest was applied to the foundation of the Keith prize in the Royal Society of Arts of Edinburgh.

[Information kindly supplied by James Gordon, esq.; Anderson's Scottish Nation.]

W. A. J. A.