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John Henry Keating (1872–1940)

by Quentin Beresford

This article was published:

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John Henry Keating (1872-1940), by T. Humphrey & Co, 1900s

John Henry Keating (1872-1940), by T. Humphrey & Co, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23386131

John Henry Keating (1872-1940), politician and lawyer, was born on 28 June 1872 in Hobart Town, son of James Keating, carpenter and later furniture manufacturer, and his wife Mary, née Cronly. Educated at Officer College, Hobart, and at St Ignatius' College, Riverview, Sydney, he obtained the Tasmanian Council of Education's degree of associate of arts in 1890 before attending the University of Tasmania (LL.B., 1896); he supported himself with scholarships and exhibitions. He was admitted to the Tasmanian Bar in August 1894 and after practising for two years in the gold town of Lefroy established himself in Launceston where he became known as a brilliant advocate; by 1902 he was in partnership with J. R. Rule. A leader of the Australian Natives' Association while in Hobart and later secretary and organizer of the Northern Tasmanian Federation League, he campaigned enthusiastically for Federation in the 1898 and 1899 referenda. He was unsuccessful as an Independent candidate for George Town in the House of Assembly elections of 1900, but topped the poll for Tasmania in the Senate elections next year to become the youngest member of the first Commonwealth parliament.

Noted as a disciple of R. E. O'Connor, Keating was government whip in the Senate in the first Barton and Deakin governments. During this period he supported moves towards a compulsory conciliation and arbitration system and a Commonwealth old-age pension scheme, and, espousing White Australia, showed particular interest in the passage of the 1901 immigration restriction bill; in 1924 he wrote a series of articles for the Launceston Examiner and published them as a booklet, White Australia: Men and Measures in its Making. Mindful of the needs of his home State, he was chairman in 1901-02 of a select committee on steamship communication between Tasmania and the mainland; a daily mail service to and from the island resulted.

In July 1905 Keating was given an honorary place in Deakin's second ministry and next year became vice-president of the Executive Council. He was responsible for the framing and drafting of the Copyright Act (1905) and was a member of the select committee (1905) and royal commission (1906) on the tobacco monopoly. As minister for home affairs from January 1907 to November 1908 he oversaw the passage of the bounties bill, the first attempt by the Commonwealth to use its jurisdiction to assist industry, and the quarantine bill, which sought to establish a uniform system of quarantine regulations. A back-bencher after the fall of the Deakin government, he sat on the 1913 select committee on the general election and the standing committee on public works (1914-17).

Keating actively supported Australia's involvement in World War I and in 1916 visited England and the Western Front at the invitation of the Empire Parliamentary Association. However, with Senator T. J. K. Bakhap, he withheld support from the Hughes government in March 1917, thereby precluding the extension of parliament and forcing the government to an election. This was in protest against the circumstances under which John Earle replaced the ailing Tasmanian Labor senator, R. K. Ready.

In 1922 Keating was defeated as a Nationalist and, after twenty-two 'conspicuously useful' years in the Senate, took up legal practice in Melbourne. Widely read, a dedicated Shakespearian and an accomplished French speaker, he was appointed officier de l'instruction publique, Ordre des Palmes Académiques, by the French government in 1924 for wartime services. He annotated and was managing editor of the 1936 consolidation of the Tasmanian statutes, published by Butterworth & Co. (Australia) Ltd. He retained links with Federal government: in 1932-33 he was counsel assisting the royal commission on performing rights; in 1934 he sat on the Federal committee which prepared the case for union in reply to the secessionist movement in Western Australia; and in 1940 he was an adviser to the Federal Department of Information.

Keating had married a Launceston girl, Sarah Alice (Lallie) Monks, on 17 January 1906 at St Mary's Catholic Church, East St Kilda, Melbourne. Lallie was an accomplished pianist, having studied at the Melbourne Conservatorium, and was author of the first government-published travel book on Queensland, Up North; a Woman's Journey Through Tropical Queensland (n.d.). She inaugurated the Bush Nursing Association in Tasmania, under the auspices of Lady Dudley, and was a principal in the Tasmanian child welfare movement and World War I comforts fund. She died on 29 October 1939. Keating died in Melbourne from the effects of a duodenal ulcer on 31 October 1940, leaving an estate valued for probate at £743. He was buried next to his wife, with Catholic rites, in the family vault in Cornelian Bay cemetery, Hobart; they were survived by a son and daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Scott, Australia During the War (Syd, 1936)
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 18 Apr 1901
  • Punch (Melbourne), 5 Apr 1906
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Feb 1924, 1 Nov 1940
  • Examiner (Launceston), 30 Oct 1939
  • Mercury (Hobart), 1 Nov 1940
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Quentin Beresford, 'Keating, John Henry (1872–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Henry Keating (1872-1940), by T. Humphrey & Co, 1900s

John Henry Keating (1872-1940), by T. Humphrey & Co, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23386131

Life Summary [details]


28 June, 1872
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


31 October, 1940 (aged 68)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.