Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Joseph Crouch (1830–1891)

by John Earnshaw

This article was published:

James Joseph Crouch (1830?-1891), imposter, lecturer and journalist, was born in England and early placed in the union workhouse at Battle. In boyhood he showed a lively intelligence and later expressed a wish to enter the Catholic priesthood. After preparation by several well-disposed clerics he was sent in 1850 for further studies to the Mission College, Rome, but after three years was expelled for vicious behaviour. Returning to England he embarked on a career of fraud and imposture which was to characterize his life: generally he assumed the garb of whichever religious denomination suited his purpose. In 1855 he returned to Rome where he was said to have posed as a cardinal but was quickly detected and again expelled. He then travelled widely in the Middle East. By 1857 he was in England, as Rev. Arthur Mereton, lecturing on the Holy Land and carrying on a series of frauds for which, as Edward Arthur Augustus Morton, he was sentenced to three months imprisonment at the Shrewsbury Sessions in January 1858. On release he was rearrested on further charges and received twelve months at the Guildford Assizes. Again at large, he met and married a Bradford widow named Bonner but soon absconded with her money. Soon afterwards, using forged credentials, he obtained the chaplaincy in the Boanerges sailing with emigrants for Australia.

Late in 1861 he appeared on the Braidwood goldfields as Rev. Montague Mereton, with two travelling showmen. Soon after conducting an illegal marriage, he and others were charged with stealing pay dirt to the value of £100 from the claim of a lucky miner known as 'Charley Champagne'; he was acquitted at the Braidwood Court and at once made off with the proceeds to the chagrin of his confederates. He is then thought to have spent several years in Tasmania where his movements are unrecorded, and is next reported in 1865 as having sailed for England in the Rifleman as tutor to the children of a wealthy settler.

In 1870, as Rev. Thomas Oscar Roland Keating, D.D., LL.D., accompanied by his 'wife', he carried out in America a series of audacious impostures, which are related in some detail in Trial and Persecutions of Miss Edith O'Gorman, Otherwise Sister Teresa de Chantal (Sydney, 1886). For a time he worked on Rev. Henry Ward Beecher's Christian Union, which later denounced his frauds. He returned to England and in 1872, for forging documents purporting to be issued by the bishop of Bath and Wells, was sentenced to five years penal servitude and seven years police surveillance. After his release he next turned up in Dublin where he again carried out a series of outrageous impostures in various ecclesiastical roles and was hunted out of Ireland.

His final roguery took place in Sydney soon after his arrival from England in July 1890, as Rev. Theodore Oswald Keatinge, S.T.D. With his engaging manner and undoubted gifts he soon caught public attention by his lectures on 'London Life', and a learned article 'The Approaching Papal Council' in September in the Sydney Quarterly Magazine. Taking advantage of local industrial unrest he contributed poetry, radical in tone and not undistinguished, to early issues of Truth, and in September was briefly the first editor of the Australian Workman. He had also prepared in manuscript a novel entitled 'Damned, A Story of Antwerp', which he claimed was more sensational than the then best-selling Melbourne novel The Mystery of the Hansom Cab. This he sold to Truth, but when attempting to obtain payment he called at the home of a proprietor, Adolphus George Taylor, in whose absence he made a criminal assault on a young domestic. To suit their own ends, Taylor and his associates, Nicholas Willis and John Norton, culpably suppressed any airing of the incident for several months. Eventually the police were notified. Keatinge was brought before the Criminal Court in February 1891 and sentenced to penal servitude for five years. The morning after he was lodged in Darlinghurst gaol he was found unconscious in his cell. Although the inquest recorded the cause of death as cerebral apoplexy there was widespread belief that he had committed suicide.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Brennan, Reminiscences of the Gold Fields (Syd, 1907)
  • C. Pearl, Wild Men of Sydney (Lond, 1958)
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 27 Feb 1891
  • Register of inquests, 1891 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

John Earnshaw, 'Crouch, James Joseph (1830–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Morton, Edward Arthur Augustus
  • Mereton, Arthur
  • Mereton, Montague
  • Keating, Thomas Oscar Roland
  • Keatinge, Theodore Oswald



1891 (aged ~ 61)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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