Thursday 20 March 2014

The Execution of "The Yorkshire Witch"

Mary Bateman (Mary Harker; Asenby, Yorkshire, England, 1768 – York, England, 20th March 1809)

Mary Bateman, "The Yorkshire Witch"

Today we meet a lady who was known to Georgian England as a villain. Poisoner, con woman and all-round bad egg, Mary Bateman travelled from humble beginnings to the scaffold and earned herself the nickname, the Yorkshire Witch. Now, I know Yorkshire very well and it is a county of most singular sorts, but I am relieved to say that I have never met anyone quite like Mary.

Bateman was the daughter of a North Yorkshire farmer and after enjoying a good education, left home to take up a domestic role in a household in Thirsk. However, the young woman was eventually fired from her position after indulging in some petty thievery and at the age of 24 she married John Bateman, with whom she travelled around the north.

With no means of employment, she continued her criminal career and branched out into confidence trickery, often employing the story that she possessed psychic powers. By the turn of the century she was living in Leeds, making a living as the supposed go-between for an entirely fictional oracle named Mrs Moore, though she later also claimed to serve a Mrs Blythe. Bateman claimed that these women could read the future, give blessings and also prepare potions that might provide protection against evil.

In 1806 Rebecca Perigo complained to her husband, William, that she was suffering from chest pains. Fearful that the woman had been cursed, the superstitious couple went to see Bateman and she cooked up a most singular pudding, with an added dash of mercury chloride. Whilst William could not manage to keep the pudding down, Rebecca dined on it religiously and perhaps unsurprisingly, died in May 1806. Not at all suspicious of Bateman, William continued to employ her services for two years, paying her regularly in return for prophecies that stated he would soon be in possession of a financial windfall.

When no pennies from heaven rained down on William, he finally began to grow suspicious of the magic charms Bateman had sold him. Many tiny silk pouches containing supposed blessings were stitched into William's bedsheets by Bateman and when he unfolded them, the unfortunate man was shocked to find himself in possession of nothing but scraps of blank paper. Finally he went to the authorities and told them of all that had happened since he had first met Mary Bateman.

The skeleton of Mary Bateman, "The Yorkshire Witch"

When Bateman was arrested, she protested her innocence vociferously but her house was found to contain poison and items procured from the people under her influence. At her trial in York she was found guilty of fraud and murder and sentenced to death. Bateman pleaded her belly and the ladies who had gathered to watch the trial made a hasty retreat for the exit, keen not to be employed on the panel of females who must judge the truth of Bateman's supposed pregnancy. Eventually it was decided that the prisoner was not with child and at five o'clock in the morning of 20th March 1809, she went to the gallows at York Castle. Her body was put on display as a warning to others and, perhaps ironically, flayed strips of her skin were sold as charms against evil spirits.

Once hundreds of paying visitors had filed past Bateman's corpse, she was presented to the anatomists of Leeds for dissection. To this day those of you with a taste for the macabre can visit her remains in the Thackray Medical Museum, though the ghoulish souvenirs available to our Georgian thrillseekers are long since all sold out.


Unknown said...

Goodness me! I'm sure I visited that museum but if I'd seen this I would have remembered. What a ghastly tale but well told Madame G. Amazing how gullible people will be, even today!

Catherine Curzon said...

She's up on the top floor of the museum, lurking away to give people a nasty surprise!

Sarah said...

A singularly unpleasant woman. A woman named Snowden had a presentiment that her son would be drowned and the family were persuaded to move, leaving all their possessions in the care of Bateman. A Judith Cryer wanted information about her grandson's fortunes, then eleven years old. Batemen said that her friend Miss Blythe saw him hanged, unless 4 guineas were hidden in the old woman's bed - which of course went! She probably also poisoned a Miss Kitchen, her mother and sister, and took possession of their goods. The newspaper article is 1808 November, and it doesn't give the publication at the top of the PDF and I forgot to look, stupidly. However it should be easy to find. It also gives another fraud story of a couple who had lost their son and had a rather credulous daughter, who was used by a 'pauper family' as a go-between, pretending to have news of her brother and how he wanted this or that.

Catherine Curzon said...

A true charmer!

Unknown said...

Madame-I hope you don't read stories like this to small children at bedtime?

Catherine Curzon said...

Only now and again!

Sarah said...

Heh, small children love gruesome tales. It's only us poor grown-ups who get harrowed

Catherine Curzon said...

So true!