WORTHINGTON, Arthur Bently
American confidence man.
A new biography of Worthington, Arthur Bently appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Arthur Bently Worthington, an American, arrived in New Zealand in January 1890. Two months later he advertised religious lectures in Christchurch and within a short time built around himself an enthusiastic congregation of “Students of Truth”, said to have numbered 2,000. In August 1892 they erected a magnificent Temple of Truth in the heart of the city (it became the Choral Hall and, later, the Latimer Hall). Other extensive buildings were added, and a branch of the “Students” was formed in Auckland. Inquiries from the United States brought the information that Worthington was a notorious confidence man and fortune hunter, eight times bigamously married, whose real name was probably Samuel Oakley Crawford. These revelations did not shake the faith of his followers, even when he broke with his eighth wife who then confirmed the charges.
As a sequel to further scandals, the New Zealand Government vainly asked the American authorities to demand Worthington's extradition. Worthington married a young Christchurch girl and, in December 1895, fled to Tasmania leaving many debts unpaid. He was back in Christchurch in September 1897, seeking to revive his fortunes, but riotous crowds, numbering in the thousands, effectively stifled his sermons and forced him to return to Australia. In Melbourne, Worthington again formed a congregation of “Students of Truth” but in 1902 he was sentenced to seven years' hard labour for cheating a widow out of her inheritance by pretending to be a reincarnation of the god Osiris. On his release Worthington returned to the United States. He was gaoled for fraud in New York and he died there in prison in 1917.
by Herbert Otto Roth, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Deputy Librarian, University of Auckland.