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The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable A True Tale of Passion, Poison and Pursuit by Carol Baxter

The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable A True Tale of Passion, Poison and Pursuit

History   Biography / Autobiography   The Real World   
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Sue Baker's view...

The year is 1845 and a murderer is caught by the first Electric telegraph, installed on the Great Western Railway. John Tawell, an upright citizen, a Quaker who had erred and been sent to Australia for his pains came back a rich man. So – did he then go on to murder Sarah Hart, poisoning her with prussic acid? It was a case that electrified the country- people following every step of the investigation and subsequent trial. From our point of view there is much to fascinate, the telegraph, a first step to mass communication, the burgeoning science that was beginning to identify poisons and the trial itself. Carol Baxter is very good on the small details, John Tawell’s story is well told.

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The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable A True Tale of Passion, Poison and Pursuit by Carol Baxter

The electrifying story of a criminal Quaker, a poisoned mistress, and the dawn of the information age in Victorian England John Tawell was a sincere Quaker but a sinning one. Convicted of forgery, he was transported to Sydney, where he made a fortune. When he returned home to England, he thought he would be welcomed, but he was shunned. Then on New Year's Day 1845 Tawell boarded the train from Slough to London Paddington. Soon, men arrived chasing a suspected murderer - but the train had departed. The Great Western Railway was experimenting with a new-fangled device, the electric telegraph, so a message was sent: a 'KWAKER' man was on the run. The trial that followed became a sensation. Told with narrative verve and rich in historical research, this is a delicious true tale of murder and scientific revolution in Victorian England.


'As lively and readable as a crime novel. Normally, that would be good enough; but this is a book of two halves - its unique selling point is the invention of the telegraph'
The Times

'A fascinating history, mystery and portrait of a complex contradictory man.'
Daily Mail

'Meticulously researched and thoroughly engrossing.'
Fiona Rule, author of The Worst Street in London

'A masterful reconstruction of a forgotten story.'
Sian Rees, author of The Floating Brothel and The Ship Thieves

'Reading this account of a real-life crime in 1845 is an experience close to time travel. Through impressive research and unshowy prose, Baxter whisks us back to the start of the modern age... Totally irresistible.'

'The popularity of real-life Victorian murder cases continues unabated, [and] this has the added interest of new technology in the shape of the electric telegraph system playing an actual part in the apprehending of a suspect.'
The Herald (Scotland)

'Gripping... With a novelist's flair for drama, using de-tails that were painstakingly extracted from the historical record, Baxter recreates the life of suspect John Tawell. Baxter does a stellar job of integrating details about the nascent forensic science of the time, questions about the role of expert witnesses in jury trials, and the insatiable public hunger for salacious details about the case.'
Publishers Weekly

'Meticulously researched and entertainingly told, this is a vivid picture of an electrifying age!'
Good Book Guide

About the Author

Carol Baxter

Carol Baxter is the prize-winning author of three popular histories with a criminal bent - An Irresistible Temptation, Breaking the Bank and Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady - all of which have been published to critical acclaim in her native Australia. Previously, she was general Editor of the Biographical Database of Australia and, before that, Project Officer of the Australian Biographical and genealogical Record, in which roles she edited many records relating to convicts transported to Australia to serve out their sentences. These helped her to discover the subjects for her tales of true crime. She is a Fellow of the Society of Australian genealogists and an adjunct lecturer at the University of New England (NSW). A full-time writer and speaker, she lives in Sydney.

Author photo © Jason Wingrove

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Book Info

Publication date

1st May 2014


Carol Baxter

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Oneworld Publications


416 pages


Biography / Autobiography
The Real World

True crime



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