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.
She was born to a farmer in Asenby, North Yorkshire in 1768. She became a servant girl in Thirsk, North Yorkshire but was eventually released due to petty theft. During the 1780s, she became a minor thief and con artist who often convinced many of her victims she possessed supernatural powers. By the end of the century, she had become a prominent fortuneteller in Leeds who prescribed potions which she claimed would ward off evil spirits as well as acting as medicine.
In 1806 she created the hoax known as The Prophet Hen of Leeds, in which eggs laid by a hen were purported to predict the end times. Villagers believed doomsday had come when a hen began laying eggs with the phrase "Christ is coming" on each one, but it was later found to be a hoax by Bateman, who had written on the eggs using acid and reinserted them into the hen's oviduct.
Also in 1806, Bateman was approached by William and Rebecca Perigo who believed they had been put under a spell after Rebecca had complained of chest pains and asked for her help in lifting the curse. However, over the next several months, Bateman began feeding them pudding which was laced with poison. While Rebecca regularly ate the pudding, her husband was unable to eat more than a spoonful. Rebecca's condition worsened however and she finally died in May 1806. William Perigo continued to pay her for more than two years until he discovered one of the "charms" which he and his wife had received from Bateman was worthless paper; he went to the authorities who arrested Bateman the following day after William lured her to a meeting.
Although she proclaimed her innocence, a search of her home turned up poison as well as many personal belongings of her victims including the Perigo couple. In March 1809, she was tried in York and found guilty by a jury of fraud and murder. Sentenced to death, Bateman attempted to avoid her execution by claiming she was pregnant, but a physical examination disproved this. She was finally hanged alongside two men on 20 March 1809. After her execution, her body was put on public display. Strips of her skin were tanned into leather and sold as magic charms to ward off evil spirits.
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.
- Davies, Owen (2004), "Bateman , Mary (1768–1809)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, retrieved 9 May 2010
- Strandberg, Todd; James, Terry (June 2003). Are You Rapture Ready. New York City: Dutton. pp. 35–45.
- "10 failed doomsday predictions". Retrieved 2009-11-12.
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.
- Charles Mackay (1980). Extraordinary popular delusions & the madness of crowds. Random House. ISBN 0-517-88433-X.
- Goor, K. (2006) Haunted Leeds, Tempus, Page 37
- Summer Strevens, The Yorkshire Witch: The Life and Trial of Mary Bateman, Pen and Sword, 2017, p. 135.