Mary Bateman – “Yorkshire Witch” or “Witch of Leeds”

Mary Bateman was born in 1768 to a North Yorkshire farmer named Harker, and as early as five years old, she displayed “a knavish and vicious disposition.”[1] It was reported that at this tender age “she stole a pair of morocco shoes and secreted them for some months in her father’s barn; at length she brought them out and pretended she had found them, but an inquiry proved that this was only one of those fraudulent devices which so strongly marked her future life.”[2]

Yorkshire witch

Mary Bateman. Public domain.

Her juvenile years were no different. About a year before Eliza de Feuillide married the Count de Feuillide in Paris, Mary became a servant in Thirsk but left under very suspicious circumstances. Approximately six years later, in 1787, she moved from Thirsk to York where she worked as a domestic servant until “she was detected in some pilfering tricks, and left … in disgrace, leaving behind … both her clothes and wages.”[3]

A year later Mary traveled from York to Leeds to live with a dressmaker. While there she picked up the art of dressmaking, “mixing with it a certain share of witchcraft, and making up the deficiencies of one concern by the productive properties of the other.”[4] It was while employed as a dressmaker that Mary met her future husband, John Bateman, and after a whirlwind courtship of three weeks she became Bateman’s wife.

Once married, Mary’s life “as a thief, a witch, and a smooth-tongued deceiver [began].”[5] The couple not having a home of their own moved into a lodging house. In less than two months, Mary broke “open a box of a fellow-lodger and stole from it his watch, some silver spoons, and two guineas. This affair she got over by restoring the stolen property.”[6] But her antics did not stop there. Using an assumed name, she obtained material and cloth for dressmaking in a fraudulent fashion.

John was a hard-working, sober man. About a year after marrying her, John was able to buy a home in Leeds, which he furnished “in a tolerable comfortable manner.”[7] One day, Mary Bateman rushed to her husband telling him that his father had taken dangerously ill. John rushed off to see his dying father but instead found him alive and well. John then realized Mary had perpetrated a trick, and enraged he returned home and discovered Mary’s motive:

“She had, in his absence, dismantled the house, sold every article of the furniture, and appropriated the money … to hush up some robbery she had committed … she [even] sold his clothes, along with many other things that she had stolen from a neighbouring [tailor].”[8]

Former residence of Bateman in Leeds; this has since been converted into a public house. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1796, a tremendous fire broke out at a Leed’s manufacturing company and a wall from the burning building fell and killed and injured many people. While the calamity harrowed up feelings of compassion among those in the community, Mary Bateman saw it as an opportunity to commit more wicked frauds. According to xx:

“[She lied to a] Miss Maude, a lady known for her charitable and humane disposition … telling her that [a] child of a poor woman had fallen a victim amongst the rest, and that she had not linen to lay the child out … [Mary] begged she would for pity’s sake, lend her a pair of sheets — this request was complied with; but the sheets, instead of being applied to such benevolent purposes, were pledged at a pawnbroker’s shop.”[9]

Mary Bateman conducted three similar frauds and then began representing herself as a nurse. She would gather up linens used to dress wounds and then dispose of the linens at the pawnbroker. When her frauds were uncovered, her husband was disgusted and “entered into the supplementary militia, but he took with him his plague, that, is his wife. And here a wide field opened for a woman of her disposition. She practised her old arts, and learnt fresh ones.”[10]

In 1799, the year that Napoleon Bonaparte became First Consul, Mary and her husband returned to Leeds. They obtained housing near Timble-Bridge. It was there that she practiced on a grand scale, her charms and her fortune-telling abilities. It was also in Timble-Bridge that she found the family of Barzilla Stead. She then convinced Barzilla bailiffs were in pursuit of him. She also aroused jealousy in his wife “by assuring her that it was the intention of Barzilla to take with him, when he went to his regiment, a woman out of Vicar-lane, Leeds, who as [Mary] said, was at that time pregnant by him.”[11] To prevent her husband from doing so, Barzilla’s wife gave Mary Bateman three half-crowns and put two pieces of coal at the woman’s door, which would supposedly cause the woman to sleep deeply. 

The following morning after the charm had supposedly taken effect, Stead left to join his regiment, and also “left the woman behind him, who [had no] … existence but in the mischievous brain of Mary.”[12] Mary’s success with Barzilla’s wife, enabled her to further fleece the credulous woman and she convinced the poor women “to sell or pawn every thing … that would raise money … persuaded … [her] that it was the intention of her husband’s father to murder her … and drove her to such a state of desperation as to lead her victim to attempt the dreadful act of self-murder.”[13]

Mary Bateman used similar tactics on other people, but her frauds finally came to a head when she was approached by William and Rebecca Perigo. Rebecca suffered from a nervous disorder, and Mary “pretended that the removal of the poor woman’s disorder would be effected by ‘a charm.'”[14] She instructed the couple to wrap up, in a flannel petticoat, four guineas. In exchange, they received “an equivalent in a purse to be kept, but never opened, as by opening it, the charm would be lost.”[15] Mary also gave them some powder to be mixed in pudding, and they were directed to continue the use of it, no matter how it affected them. It seems the powder did have an effect. It killed a cat, some poultry, and Rebecca too.

Mary Bateman mixing poison. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

After Rebecca’s death, Mary continued to prey on William. According to the Hull Packet,

“[She wrested] from him the remnant of his property … her vile arts had gained such an ascendancy over the poor man, that she went on till his whole property was gone, and he found himself involved considerably in debt … his necessity drove him to open the bag originally deposited [with] … his four guineas; and it was indeed an empty charm.”[16]

William was so distraught he related his story to his neighbors, and they aided him in bringing Mary Bateman to justice. She was apprehended by the Chief Constable of Leeds, “for the frauds committed on William Perigo’s family, and the wilful [sic] murder of Perigo’s wife, by administering poison.”[17]

After the story about Perigo was published in the Leed’s Mercury, Mary’s nefarious actions created a great deal of interest with the public. This encouraged other victims to come forward, and they testified against her. Thus, on 21 October 1808, after listening to witnesses and having Mary Bateman undergo several examinations before the borough’s magistrates, she was committed to York Castle, on suspicion of willful murder of Rebecca Perigo.

Several months later, on Friday, 17 March 1809, Mary Bateman was brought before a twelve-man jury. Her crimes were laid out with an additional tidbit reported. It seems that on the morning of her capture “when by appointment she was to meet Perigo alone, a bottle containing a poisonous mixtures of the most deadly kind was found in her possession.”[18] At trial, she had no legal help and no defense, and, so, it was likely no surprise when “the Jury after conferring for a moment, found the prisoner Guilty — and the Judge proceeded to pass sentence of death.”[19] She was to be hanged and afterwards her body given to be dissected, a similar fate that befell xxx.

For all her crimes, Mary Bateman was said in manners that she was “sedate and respectable,” but it was also reported she had “a tongue in her head that would weedle the devil.”[20] Moreover, she was described in the following manner:

“[An ordinary person] neat in her person and dress, and though there was nothing ingenuous in her countenance, it had an air of placidity and the composure not ill adapted to make a favorable impression on those persons who visited her. Her manner of address was soft and insinuating.”[21]

Whatever happened to the money Mary Bateman gained through her fraudulent activities did not enrich her or her husband. At her death, her husband and children faced extreme poverty. There was no house or furniture to sell only unpaid debts. Moreover, she betrayed, deceived, or robbed every relative known to her. Her brother, mother, and father were betrayed and deceived, and, similar to her husband, they also suffered. The Examiner also claimed:

“Mary Bateman pretend[ed] to prophecy, not because she believed in prophecy, but because she did not believe in it … and … she became entangled in the sources of hell, which ended in her own destruction.”[22]

Mary Bateman was executed at five o’clock on a Monday morning. She was taken to the gallows, where a large crowd of curious spectators waited. There it was reported:

“[The] dreadful noise occasioned by fixing the apparatus of execution, [could be heard by all] … but nothing appeared capable of moving her.”[23]

Although Mary showed no emotion, the spectators did. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported, “The most respectful silence prevailed during the few moments spent in prayer, except when interrupted by a half suppressed ejaculation for mercy on the wretched sufferer.”[24]

When the deed was done, curiosity remained, and the public demanded to see her lifeless remains. She was taken to Leeds where the curiosity was so strong, “the sum of thirty pounds was raised for the use of the General Infirmary, by receiving from each of the visitors the sum of threepence.”[25] For those who saw her corpse, they were superstitious and touched it believing that by touching part of her body it would prevent her from interfering with their “nocturnal dreams.” Strips of her skin were also tanned and later sold as talismans to ward off evil spirits. Today, her skeleton can be viewed at the Thackray Museum in Leeds, where she is forever marked as the “Yorkshire Witch” or the “Witch of Leeds.”

References:

  • [1] Extraordinary Life and Character of Mary Bateman, the Yorkshire Witch, 1811, p. 5.
  • [2] Ibid., p. 5.
  • [3] Ibid., p. 6.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] The (Kirby’s) Wonderful and Scientific (Eccentric) Museum, Vol. 4, 1820, p. 262.
  • [8] Ibid., p. 263.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] Ibid., p. 264.
  • [11] Ibid., p. 265.
  • [12] Ibid., p. 266.
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] “Witchcraft,” in Hull Packet, 1808, p. 4.
  • [15] Ibid.
  • [16] Ibid.
  • [17] Ibid.
  • [18] Extraordinary Life and Character of Mary Bateman, the Yorkshire Witch, p. 29.
  • [19] Ibid., p. 51.
  • [20] “Witchcraft,” p. 4.
  • [21] Pelham, Camden, The Chronicles of Crime, Vol. 1, 1891, p. 468.
  • [22] “Mary Bateman and Joanna Southcott,” The Examiner, 8 October 1809, p. 11.
  • [23] Extraordinary Life and Character of Mary Bateman, the Yorkshire Witch, p. 54.
  • [24] “Mary Bateman, The Yorkshire Witch,” in Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 30 December 1875, p. 8.
  • [25] Ibid.

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