The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable

Pages: 416
Subject: History
Imprint: Oneworld

The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable

A True Tale of Passion, Poison and Pursuit

Carol Baxter

The electrifying story of a criminal Quaker, a poisoned mistress, and the dawn of the information age in Victorian England
9781780744032 (1 May 2014)
RRP £8.99

The Book

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.

Additional Information

Subject History
Pages 416
Imprint Oneworld


About the Author

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.


'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

'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.'

- Independent

'Gripping… With a novelist's flair for drama, using de­tails 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

'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)

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

- Good Book Guide

'Meticulously researched and thoroughly engrossing.'

- Fiona Rule, author of The Worst Street in London

'A masterful reconstruction of a forgotten story.'

- Siân Rees, author of The Floating Brothel and The Ship Thieves