Mary Bateman

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Mary Bateman
Mary Bateman.jpg
Mary Bateman mixing poison
Born1768 (1768)
Asenby, North Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died20 March 1809(1809-03-20) (aged 40–41)
Cause of deathHanging
Other namesMary Harker
Con artist
Years active1780s–1809
Known forThe so-called 'Yorkshire Witch'
Criminal statusDead
Criminal chargeFraud
PenaltyDeath by hanging
VictimsRebecca Perigo
Imprisoned atFemale Prison, York

Mary Bateman (1768 – 20 March 1809) was an English criminal and alleged witch, known as the Yorkshire Witch, who was tried and executed for murder during the early 19th century.


Mary Harker was born in Asenby in the North Riding of Yorkshire in 1768.[1] Her father was a farmer.[1] She learned to read and write and, from age 13, worked as a servant girl in Thirsk, North Riding of Yorkshire.[1] She moved to York aged 20 and worked as a dressmaker. However, she fled to Leeds the next year after being involved in a burglary.[1] During the next four years she worked as a mantua maker, and also began to build a reputation as a fortune-teller and 'wise woman'.[1] In 1792 she married John Bateman, who was a wheelwright.[1] During these early years of her marriage, she also undertook several robberies and was caught several times, escaping prison by bribing those who witnessed her activities.[1] In 1796 John joined the Army, and Bateman accompanied him away from Leeds, however within one year they had returned to Leeds.[1] Amongst other crimes, she is reported to have once roamed the streets of Leeds after a major fire begging for money and goods for victims, but instead retained the charitable gifts for herself.[2] According to author Summer Stevens, she also worked as an abortionist.[3]

In 1806 Bateman joined the followers of the prophetess Joanna Southcott and attended meetings.[1] As part of a Southcottian sect, she created the hoax known as The Prophet Hen of Leeds, in which eggs laid by a hen were purported have written on them 'Christ is coming' - a message believed to preceded end times.[4][5] Three of these eggs were displayed by Bateman, but it was later found that she had written on the eggs using acid and reinserted them into the hen's oviduct.[6]

In the same year, Bateman was approached by William and Rebecca Perigo - Rebecca was suffering from chest pains and Bateman diagnosed that she had been put under a spell.[1] However, over the next several months, Bateman began feeding them pudding which was laced with poison.[citation needed] Rebecca's condition worsened however and she finally died in 1808.[1] In October 1808 William Perigo accused Bateman of poisoning his wife, as well as defrauding money from them for the two years preceding to pay for "charms" and cures.[1] Although Bateman proclaimed her innocence, a search of her home turned up poison as well as many personal belongings of her victims including the Perigo couple.[citation needed]

Trial and execution[edit]

Bateman's trial took place in York in March 1809.[1] According to The Criminal Chronology of York Castle by William Knipe, which was written in 1867, the trial lasted eleven hours, though the jury took only a few moments to find her guilty of the charges of fraud and the murder of Rebecca Perigo.[7] The book also claims that immediately following the sentence of death from the judge, Bateman said that she was 22-weeks pregnant and thus unable to be hanged.[7] The judge subsequently requested that the Sherriff gather a panel of 'matrons' to assess Bateman's claim.[7] Twelve married women were sworn into the jury and conducted a physical examination of Bateman, concluding that she was not pregnant and thus able to be executed.[7]

William Knipe's 1867 account suggests Bateman had a daughter at home as well as an infant child in the prison with her.[7] She supposedly mailed her wedding ring back to her husband to give to the daughter.[7]

Bateman was hanged alongside two men on Monday 20 March 1809.[7]


After her execution, her body was transferred to Leeds General Infirmary, which publicly displayed her body, charging 3 pence per visitor.[8] Her body was dissected by William Hey, who spread the event across three days. On day one medical students paid to view the corpse, on day two “about 100 tickets were available to gentlemen [professional Leeds men] who paid five guineas”, and on day three women could buy a day ticket to attend Hey's lectures on the body.[9] Strips of her skin were tanned into leather and sold as magic charms to ward off evil spirits.[2][10] The tip of her tongue was collected by the governor of Ripon Prison.[10] Two books from the library of Mexborough House were covered in her skin - Sir John Cheeke’s Hurt of Sedition: How Grievous it is to a Common Welth (1569) and Richard Braithwaite’s Arcadian Princess (1635); the books went missing in the mid-nineteenth century.[10]


Former residence of Bateman in Leeds; this has since been converted into a public house - the Lamb & Flag

Bateman's death caused sensation at the time and was eagerly consumed by the public through books and periodicals published in quick succession after her death.[11] In 1811 The Extraordinary Life and Character of Mary Bateman was published, which ran to twelve editions.[3]

Bateman's skeleton was on display to the public at the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds[12] until 2015, when it was moved to Leeds University.[13]

A BBC-TV programme about Bateman, featuring a modern-day descendant of hers (Tracy Whitaker), showed Bateman's skull being laser-scanned to demonstrate how her face may well have appeared. It was first shown on 12 April 2001, entitled The People Detective – 1. Witch and presented by historian and curator Daru Rooke.[14]


As early as 1867, William Knipe suggested that she was "addicted" to crime.[7] Historian Owen Davies describes Bateman as having a "pathological need to steal", implying that there was a psychological reason behind the motivations for some of her crimes.[1]

Whatever the reason behind her crimes, her reputation and her trial became widely known and it is important to question why it was sensationalised in this way.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Davies, Owen (2004). "Bateman, Mary (1768–1809)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/56653. Retrieved 9 May 2010. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b Johnson, Helen (31 October 2018). "The Yorkshire Witches: Mary Bateman, Mary Pannal and Mother Shipton". Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  3. ^ a b c S, Jessica (2 August 2018). "Burned At The Stake-The Life of Mary Channing/The Yorkshire Witch-The Life and Trial of Mary Bateman by Summer Strevens". Glasgow Women's Library. Retrieved 9 February 2021.
  4. ^ Strandberg, Todd; James, Terry (June 2003). Are You Rapture Ready. New York City: Dutton. pp. 35–45.
  5. ^ "10 failed doomsday predictions". Retrieved 12 November 2009. History has countless examples of people who have proclaimed that the return of Jesus Christ is imminent, but perhaps there has never been a stranger messenger than a hen in the English town of Leeds in 1806. It seems that a hen began laying eggs on which the phrase "Christ is coming" was written. As news of this miracle spread, many people became convinced that doomsday was at hand — until a curious local actually watched the hen laying one of the prophetic eggs and discovered someone had hatched a hoax.
  6. ^ Mackay, Charles (1980). Extraordinary popular delusions & the madness of crowds. Random House. ISBN 0-517-88433-X.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Knipe, William (1867). "Mary Bateman". Criminal chronology of York castle; with a register of criminals capitally convicted and executed at the County assizes, commencing March 1st, 1379, to the present time. York [Eng.] C. L. Burdekin; [etc., etc.] pp. 145-149.
  8. ^ Ward, Richard (2015). "The Criminal Corpse, Anatomists, and the Criminal Law: Parliamentary Attempts to Extend the Dissection of Offenders in Late Eighteenth-Century England". Journal of British Studies. 54 (1): 63–87. doi:10.1017/jbr.2014.167. ISSN 0021-9371. PMC 4374108. PMID 25821241.
  9. ^ Hurren, Elizabeth T (2013). "The dangerous dead: dissecting the criminal corpse". The Lancet. 382 (9889): 302–303. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(13)61626-8. ISSN 0140-6736. PMC 5955205. PMID 23901413.
  10. ^ a b c Davies, Owen; Matteoni, Francesca (2017), Davies, Owen; Matteoni, Francesca (eds.), "The Corpse Gives Life", Executing Magic in the Modern Era: Criminal Bodies and the Gallows in Popular Medicine, Palgrave Historical Studies in the Criminal Corpse and its Afterlife, Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 29–52, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-59519-1_3, ISBN 978-3-319-59519-1
  11. ^ Churms, Stephanie Elizabeth (2019), Churms, Stephanie Elizabeth (ed.), "A Profile of Romantic-Period Popular Magic: Taxonomies of Evidence", Romanticism and Popular Magic: Poetry and Cultures of the Occult in the 1790s, Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print, Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 17–79, doi:10.1007/978-3-030-04810-5_2, ISBN 978-3-030-04810-5, retrieved 9 February 2021
  12. ^ Goor, K. (2006) Haunted Leeds, Tempus, Page 37
  13. ^ Summer Strevens (2017). The Yorkshire Witch: The Life and Trial of Mary Bateman. Pen and Sword. p. 135.
  14. ^ "Witch. The People Detective. Episode 1 of 5". BBC. Archived from the original on 15 April 2017. Retrieved 10 January 2021.

Further reading[edit]

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