Keeling, Josiah (DNB00)

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KEELING, JOSIAH (fl. 1691), conspirator, was a white salter or oilman of St. Botolph-without-Aldgate, London. Burnet says he was an anabaptist. In 1683 Richard Rumbold and Richard Goodenough [q. v.], two of the originators of the Rye House Plot, wished to test their strength in the city, and Keeling, being in embarrassed circumstances, took employment under them. He was also appointed a special bailiff under the coroner, and in that capacity had the temerity to arrest the lord mayor, Sir John Moore, on a fictitious suit at the instigation of Rumbold and Goodenough. Subsequently he revealed the existence of the Rye House plot to a courtier named Peckham, who took him to Lord Dartmouth (12 June 1683). The latter referred him to Secretary Jenkins, who took his depositions, but requested him to bring a witness. Thereupon Keeling introduced to the unsuspecting Goodenough, as a thoroughly trustworthy man, his brother John, a turner, of Blackfriars, who was entirely innocent of the conspiracy. Goodenough guilelessly unfolded the plot to him. Keeling by a trick took his brother to Jenkins's office as an independent witness to his revelations; John Keeling repeated Goodenough's story, and on leaving the secretary warned Goodenough and his friends of their danger (Burnet, Own Time, Oxf. edit. ii. 350–1, 374–5). The government had received all the information needful to enable them to proceed against the alleged chiefs of the conspiracy, and Keeling gave evidence at the trials of Captain Thomas Walcot, William Hone, Algernon Sidney, Lord William Russell, and others. He became a popular hero. His portrait, engraved by R. White, with a flattering inscription beneath, was widely sold (Granger, Biog. Hist. 2nd edit. iv. 204–5), and Secretary Jenkins procured him a general pardon of ‘all treasons’ in September 1683, after Hone's trial (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. pt. vi. p. 304). He received 500l. from the government, and Halifax gave him a place in the victualling office. When in 1689 the House of Lords instituted an inquiry into the value of the evidence which had been adduced at the trials of Lord William Russell, Algernon Sidney, and others, Keeling was sharply cross-examined (ib. pp. 287–8). His brother appeared against him, while he himself had to admit that he was drunk at a coffee-house shortly before he was called as a witness at the trial of Lord William Russell. He was dismissed from the victualling office in October of that year. In April 1691 he was arrested for drinking James II's health, was found guilty in the following November, and fined five hundred marks (Luttrell, Brief Historical Relation, ii. 211, 234, 307, 310). He appears to have died in prison. North, both in his ‘Examen,’ pp. 378–9, and ‘Lives of the Norths,’ insisted that Keeling was an honest man. ‘It is certain,’ North wrote, ‘no combination, temptation, or prospect of reward drew him forth’ (Lives, ed. Jessopp, i. 238).

An engraved portrait of Keeling, signed ‘R. White ad vivum,’ published in 1793, is among the British Museum Addit. MSS. (32352, f. 26).

[Cobbett and Howell's State Trials, ix. 365, 533, 574, 848, 971, 977; Luttrell's Brief Historical Relation, vol. i.]

G. G.