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The Adventures of a Victorian Con Woman (Hardback)

The Life and Crimes of Mrs Gordon Baillie

P&S History > British History > Victorian History P&S History > Social History P&S History > True Crime Women of History

By Mick Davis, David Lassman
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 368
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526764867
Published: 8th January 2021



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'The story of Mrs. Gordon Baillie is stranger than anything to be met with in the field of fiction.'

Mrs. Gordon Baillie, known throughout her life as Annie, was born in the direst poverty in the small Scottish fishing town of Peterhead in 1848. Illegitimate and illiterate her beauty and intelligence nevertheless enabled her to overcome her circumstances and become a charming and wealthy socialite living a life of luxury whilst raising money for worthy causes and charitable works.

Behind her supposed perfect and contented life, however, lay one of the most notorious and compulsive swindlers of the Victorian Age. Her fraudulent fundraising and larger-than-life schemes played out across four decades and three continents, Europe, America and Australasia, and involved land owners crofters, aristocrats, politicians, bankers, socialist revolutionaries, operatic stars and the cultural icons of the day.

She became mistress to a rich aristocrat, married a world-renowned male opera singer and later took as a lover a vicar's son with anarchist tendencies. For most of her 'career' she kept one step ahead of the law and her nemesis, Inspector Henry Marshall of Scotland Yard, but finally becoming undone through her own compulsion for petty theft, despite her amassed fortune.

During her life she used more than 40 aliases, produced four children and spent her way through millions of ill-gotten pounds, dollars and other currencies. But at the turn of the twentieth century, her notoriety was such that she took refuge in America and disappeared from history.

You can tell a lot research has gone into writing the story of Mrs. Gordon Baillie who was a Victorian woman who was able to hide her beings in Scotland to become one of the most notorious con-women in well-to-do society. It's packed with first-hand accounts and times hard to believe the situations she found herself in.

Highly recommended to crime readers.

NetGalley, S Ballinger

I knew next to nothing about Mrs. Gordon Baillie going into this book. Now I feel like I could have a full conversation about her. This book was very well researched and well crafted. It was written in a way that any one could read, regardless of how much one knows about the subject.

NetGalley, Katie Martin

If you want to read about a Victorian woman who was able to hide her humble origins in Scotland to become one of the most notorious con-women in well-to-do society – an audacious figure who tried to live the life she felt she deserved rather than the one society wanted her to lead – then this book is highly recommended.

Read the full review here

Criminal Historian, Dr Nell Darby

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

What a fascinating story. This would make a fantastic film. As a writer of Victorian crime myself I was captivated with the audacity and nerve of this deceitful conniving woman. Simply fascinating and a captivating read.

NetGalley, Wendy M Rhodes

Where should I start from? Ahh, there are not many biographies of con people, especially a Victorian woman, so I leapt onto it once saw the title! And oh my! Glad I have done it!

The writers had done an extreme research about Annie Gordon Baillie who had lived and "performed" in XIX century in Victorian area. Her character, style, the way she was obsessive with conning people from middle class to high elite society was an awe! In the tears of laughter and fascination, I was closely observing and waiting for the end of her "adventures" in Scotland, England, Australia, New Zealand, US and was pitying those poor people sometimes she has played tricks on.

The story is being told as a biography with court cases, witness statements, extensive descriptions of events and to be honest, I enjoyed each and every one of them, even learned some tricks (not because I'm gonna use them!). I was surprised how heartless she was towards her own children, didn't care about poor cabman's situation, and how she tricked Scottish crofters and elite society around her... Overall, an enjoyable and fun learning journey for me!

NetGalley, Chinara Ahmadova

"The Adventures of a Victorian Con Woman: The Life and Crimes of Mrs Gordon Baillie" is an impressive blend of history and biography by the team of Mick Davis "The Adventures of a Victorian Con Woman: The Life and Crimes of Mrs Gordon Baillie" is an inherently fascinating, informative, entertaining, and chronologically presented read throughout.

Read the full review here

Midwest Book Review

I knew nothing about Mrs. Gordon Baillie before reading this book. I must say, I am always a bit suspicious when reading non-fiction. However, this book was so well- written and, I would say, well-researched, that it had such a fun amd smooth flow about Annie's "adventutes" and getting out of adventures-gone-wrong that it felt almost like fiction. I was so happy to read about a woman who was... unusual for the time she lived in and I'm eager to read more similar stories.

NetGalley, Mell K

This was a well-written book that would have needed a lot of research which comes across in the writing. A really good read and very enjoyable book, I would certainly recommend this book to others.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

Wow! A real-life story that's stranger and more far-fetched than anything you'll read in fiction... Mrs Gordon Baillie is an extraordinary character brought brilliantly to life by authors Nick Davis and David Lassman. Don't miss it!

Books Monthly

In this book, we are immersed in the life of Mrs. Gordon Baillie, also known as Annie, who becomes one of the most well-known con women in the Victorian age. We start from the beginning, at her birth in the 1800s, then her childhood, and so on. The plot is interesting enough to make you want to keep going. The writing is beautiful, easy to picture every scene.
If you like Victorian stories I definitely recommend this one!

NetGalley, Marti Feliciani

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is an interesting, and eye opening, read on so many levels. Select it for tales of the personal, the flaws of our legal systems, the sheer inequalities that existed, between rich and poor and men and women, of for the “opportunities” for those who indulged in international travel – but I recommend you read it.

NetGalley, Hilary White

This book was really well written and got my attention immediately. We get to follow the intriguing story of Annie, or Mrs Gordon Baillie, who ended up going down in history as one of the most notorious con women in the Victorian age. The book is linear, starting with theories of her birth, following her childhood in poverty, in a small Scottish fishing town in the 1800s, all through to her mysterious disappearance.

Despite being illiterate, Annie used her intelligence and beauty to swindle compulsively, while maintaining an image of wealthy sociality dedicating her life to charity. Her schemes spread far across the land, through 3 continents, for four decades. A truly remarkable story!

It's a really comprehensive investigative work, and I congratulate the writers for their thorough research and quest for the truth behind what could have easily been registered in history as a terrible, terrible person. Instead, we're introduced to a complex person who deserved to have her story told.

NetGalley, Gaby Winandy

Article ‘Aberdeenshire's extraordinary conwoman’ as featured by

Trend Aberdeen, April 2021

Review by Philip George

This history is a fascinating read and in parts is a real page turner.

The Visitor Magazine, March 2021

Incredibly well researched - this is such a worthwhile read.

I loved the way it was written. The language used creates such a vivid picture.

NetGalley, Maria Martignetti

Q&A with David Lassman: David tells Laura Smith about Annie’s fascinating life and most audacious crimes

The Sunday Post, 14th February 2021

Article: ‘Story of a con woman’, words by Kevin McRoberts

Buchan Observer, 2nd February 2021

Article: ‘Spotlight on conwoman’s life of crime’, words by Zoe Phillips

Evening Express, 5th February 2021

There's an incredible amount of research that's gone into this, it's hard to imagine a more thorough account of Annie's life. It's packed with first-hand accounts and recognition of not only the facts, but rumours that have never been confirmed. What this does really well though is that it reinterprets all of that into a compelling story that flows well throughout. They did such a great job of bringing her to life. It also manages to be very funny in parts – I found myself laughing at some of the scrapes that Annie got up to. And boy did she get up to some wild things, who knew there's so many different ways to swindle people?

Overall I definitely recommend this to anyone who's into a bit of true crime or even historical fiction. It's a great balance of giving all the facts while bringing it together in an engaging narrative.

NetGalley, Rebecca Treacy

‘The Adventures of a Victorian Con Woman’ – Frome historians’ latest book is out now

Frome Times, 4th February 2021

This author did such a wonderful job of grabbing this story from history and bringing it to life to provide quite the entertaining read.

NetGalley, Vonda Svara

This was such a fascinating, entertaining read. Well-written and researched, I loved this book from start to finish, and you can't help but admire Annie despite or perhaps because of the path that she chose. It balanced the information with the narrative very well.

NetGalley, Christina Frøkjær

As I have never actually read any true crime and generally stay firmly in fiction this was something new for me. But with the title of “The Adventures of a Victorian Con Woman” how could I not read it? I mean real life can be much stranger than fiction and ideas for fiction have to come from somewhere, right? It was quite interesting to learn of the misadventures and antics of Mrs Gordon Baillie. When you think of true crime you wouldn’t imagine that there might be some humor involved. It was very well written and obviously very well researched making it a rather enjoyable read.

NetGalley, Brit Andrews

Annie is a Victorian con woman that I knew nothing about before picking up this book. You can not help but admire Annie despite the path that she chose. I loved reading about her wide variety of ways in which she would con people out of something, and it was exciting to learn about her ways of escape just before she would have been caught.

I found myself laughing out loud in some parts, I feel as though I have learned a lot about her, it was well researched and an enjoyable read. it was nice to read about a female in history that the public is not aware of. It balanced the information with the narrative very well.

NetGalley, Chloe Bateman

Interview with author David Lassman and presenter Simon Parkin

BBC Radio Somerset, 25th January 2021

Mrs. Gordon Baillie, or Annie, is a Victorian con woman that I knew nothing about before picking up this book. I loved reading about her wide variety of ways in which to swindle people out of something, and it was exciting to learn about her ways of escape just before she would have been caught.

There were some parts that created a more humorous view of Annie's situations, and I enjoyed those as I found myself laughing out loud! The story is written so that while we are learning about her, it feels more like a story and less like a non-fiction history book. It was a good mix of info and story.

NetGalley, BreeAnn Kaczmarczyk

Oh my goodness, this book had me giggling in a few parts - but it was so well done, and put together. You can follow the criminal career of Annie with ease!

>From cloaks to asking for fair for transportation, to swindling people out of money for "good works," Annie ran the gambit, doing everything she could to maintain a comfortable lifestyle, while skipping out just in time to keep from being arrested. The police seemed to be one step behind her at every turn.

I enjoyed this read, and the exploits of the dominating Annie.

NetGalley, Rebecca Hill

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Notorious Mrs. Gordon Baillie (aka Annie and about 40 other aliases) was a fascinating con woman who lived in the Victorian era, a woman I had not heard of before. But now she will stick out in my mind as her life was absolutely crowded with ingratiating, stealing and racking up debts everywhere she went. And I mean everywhere. When finally found out by Inspector Marshall, in the courtroom evidence was heard from a huge range of people she swindled including a butcher, jeweler, milliner, bankers and many more. She even sold furniture from homes which weren't hers. She largely got away with it for ages! One of her favourite excuses was "forgetting" her purse. Every time things got "hot" she packed up and moved with her servants. Yes, she had servants! Mostly unpaid, of course. She must have had stamina and energy in spades, especially as she also had children, though they did not seem to be important to her.

On the outset she had three immense strikes against her...she was born poor (in Scotland), she was illegitimate and she was female. Her childhood was challenging and it seems to have affected her life thereafter. Her birth was not recorded, either, which made things interesting later. However, she was known to be very beautiful which was advantageous. She was clever, too, and had a way of "borrowing" money then not paying her debts without batting a beautiful eye. She was soon mingling with the rich and famous and married money as well. Her lifestyle was extravagant. However, her compulsiveness continued, probably for the excitement and thrill of not getting caught. Perhaps she became so accustomed to it she was able to justify her lies. She left swaths of debt in several countries.

In spite of her deceit, escapades and prison sentences, I can't help but admire her tenacity and cleverness. Admittedly she was a remarkable woman, very interesting to read about. Non-Fiction readers who wish for something unique and absolutely riveting, look no further than this gem of a book. The authors clearly did their research!

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton

About Mick Davis

Mick Davis spent many years working in the criminal law before retiring with his wife Lorraine to Frome in Somerset where he pursues his interest in restoring historic buildings, local history and archaeology. He now spends his time researching and writing full time. His first book was The Historic Inns of Frome and his collaboration with David Lassman has so far produced The Awful Killing of Sarah Watts and Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in and around Frome, both published by Pen and Sword. Current projects include a survey of the prehistoric barrows of North Somerset.

 David Lassman

About David Lassman

David Lassman began his writing career freelancing for newspapers and magazines, before studying screenwriting at Bournemouth University. He spent three and a half years on a Greek island writing his first novel, is author of Frome in the Great War and co-created the ‘Regency Detective’ series with Terence James. His collaborations with Mick Davis include The Awful Killing of Sarah Watts, one of the most infamous crimes of the Victorian period and Visitors’ Historic Britain: Somerset.

Annie (Mrs Gordon Bailee) was born

21st February 1848

Annie (Mrs Gordon Bailee) was born on 21 February 1848 in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire.

The Adventures of a Victorian Con Woman

25th January 1899

Annie – Mrs. Gordon Baillie – was released from her second-long spell of imprisonment (this time from Aylesbury Prison). She was 51 years old and internationally known as a notorious swindler and con-artist.

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