Mary Bateman, The Yorkshire Witch

Mary Bateman, The Yorkshire WitchThe library’s copy of the EXTRAORDINARY LIFE & CHARACTER OF MARY BATEMAN THE YORKSHIRE WITCH TRACED FROM THE EARLIEST THEFTS OF HER INFANCY THROUGH A MOST AWFUL COURSE OF CRIMES & MURDERS, TILL HER EXECUTION AT THE NEW DROP, NEAR THE CASTLE OF YORK ON MONDAY THE TWENTIETH OF MARCH, 1809 was printed in 1811 only 2 years after Mary’s execution and was already the twelfth edition! Mary was born in 1768 into a farming family from Thirsk called Harker. The book lists her knavish and vicious disposition, which she began to show at the age of 5.

Personally, I think she was just a normal naughty child but judge for yourself. On one occasion she stole a pair of shoes, hid them and then after a while pretended she had just found them. It appears that she told lies which made her unpopular with her contemporaries. In 1870 she became a servant in various houses in Thirsk but left each job in suspicious circumstances. She
was sacked from her next job in York for stealing. She became a mantua maker (mantua silk dressmaker) and after a courtship of 3 weeks married John Bateman on the 26th of February 1792. They took lodgings in Leeds. She returned to her criminal activities by stealing from fellow lodgers, gaining articles by deception.

Mary played a vicious trick on her husband. John came from Thirsk and his father still lived there. Mary went to his workplace with a forged letter saying that John’s father was near to dying. John went to Thirsk where he found his father alive. On his return to Leeds he found that Mary had sold every article of furniture in their house. John didn’t learn from this as a little while later when he was visiting friends Mary sold all his clothes! John was ashamed of his wife and to escape the pity of his neighbours he joined the army. But he took Mary with him! Mary managed to extend her repertoire and when they returned to Leeds in 1799 she began to “help” lovesick girls and nervous women by telling fortunes. She persuaded vulnerable women that she could help them if they gave her money or goods. In fact she so terrorised women that many ended up penniless with no homes or belongings left.

Mary was arrested on the 21st of October 1808 and was committed to York Castle on suspicion of the murder of Rebecca Perigo of Bramley. She had, using the name of Miss Blythe, defrauded the family of Perigo of not only clothes and furniture but also of a large amount of money, reckoned to be in the region of £70. Mary had promised to lift a curse which Rebecca thought had been placed on her. It appears that the articles and money were given to Mary to cleanse them from the curse! The Perigos expected all the money and the articles to be returned after a set period of time. The articles included such items as a goose, a tea caddy, a silk handkerchief, 60 pounds of butter, 200-300 eggs, a piece of beef and 2 napkins! At one time Mary told the Perigos that they would be taken ill in the month of May and that one of them could die. Writing as Mr Blythe, Mary said your wife must take half a pound of honey down from Bramley to Mary Bateman’s at Leeds & she will put in it such stuff as I have sent down from Scarbo’ to her. If ever you find yourself sickly at any time you must take each of you a teaspoonful of this honey. You must eat pudding from the 11th of May & you must put one of the powders in every day.

The family did as they were instructed and the result was that they were both violently ill and Rebecca died. The amount of hearsay evidence against Mary, plus the correspondence, was overwhelming and the jury found her guilty. When asked if she had anything to say in her defence she pleaded her innocence and stated that she was pregnant. The Judge wanted to know if
this was true and suggested a jury made up of married women, from the spectators in the court, should examine her. The married ladies were not too keen on this and quickly tried to leave but the judge ordered the doors to be locked. Twelve women were directed to examine Mary and she was found not to pregnant. Mary was hanged and her body was sent to the Leeds General Infirmary for dissection.

So great was the general curiosity to see her, that the sum of 30 pounds was raised, for the use of the General Infirmary, by receiving from each of the visitors the sum of 3 pence.

In 1924 Mary’s tongue was reported to be in the possession of Bolling Hall Museum Bradford. If you so wish, you can view the top half of her skeleton, which includes the skull, at the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds.

Janet C. Senior, Assistant Librarian