Commonly called the Yorkshire Witch, Executed for Murder
THE insidious arts practised by this woman rendered her a pest to the neighbourhood in which she resided, and she richly deserved that fate which eventually befell her.
Mary Bateman was born of reputable parents at Aisenby in the North Riding of Yorkshire, in the year 1768: her father, whose name was Harker, carrying on business as a small farmer. As early as at the age of five years, she exhibited much of that sly knavery, which subsequently so extraordinarily distinguished her character; and many were the frauds and falsehoods, of which she was guilty, and for which she was punished. In the year 1780, she first quitted her father's house, to undertake the duties of a servant in Thirsk, but having been guilty of some peccadilloes, she proceeded to York in 1787. Before she had been in that city more than twelve months, she was detected in pilfering some trifling articles of property belonging to her mistress, and was compelled to run off to Leeds, without waiting either for her wages or her clothes. For a considerable time she remained without employment or friends, but at length, upon the recommendation of an acquaintance of her mother, she obtained an engagement in the shop of a mantua maker, in whose service she remained for more than three years. She then became acquainted with John Bateman, to whom after three weeks' courtship she was married in the year 1792.
Within two months after her marriage, she was found to have been guilty of many frauds, and she only escaped prosecution by inducing her husband to move frequently from place to place, so as to escape apprehension; and at length poor Bateman, driven almost wild by the tricks of his wife, entered the supplementary militia. Mrs Bateman was now entirely thrown upon her own resources and, unable to follow any reputable trade, she in the year 1799 took up her residence in Marsh Lane, near Timble Bridge, Leeds, and proceeded to deal in fortune-telling and the sale of charms. From a long course of iniquity, carried on chiefly through the medium of the most wily arts, she had acquired a manner and a mode of speech peculiarly adapted to her new profession, and abundance of credulous victims daily presented themselves to her. It would be useless to follow this wretched woman through the subsequent scenes of her miserable life. Fraud and deceit were the only means by which she was able to carry on the war, and numerous were the impudent and heartless schemes which she put into operation to dupe the unhappy objects of her at tacks. Her character was such as to prevent her long pursuing her occupation in one position, and she was repeatedly compelled to change her abode until she at length took up her residence in Black Dog Lane, where she was apprehended. Her husband at this time had returned from the militia several years, and although he followed the trade to which he had been brought up, there can be little doubt that he shared the proceeds of his wife's villainies. She was indicted at York on the 18th of March 1809, for the wilful murder of Rebecca Perigo of Bramley in the same county, in the month of May in the previous year. The examination of the witnesses, who were called to support the case for the prosecution, showed, that Mrs Bateman resided at Leeds, and was well known at that place, as well as in the surrounding districts, as a 'witch', in which capacity she had been frequently employed to work cures of 'evil wishes', and all the other customary imaginary illnesses, to which the credulous lower orders at that time supposed themselves liable. Her name had become much celebrated in the neighbourhood for her successes in the arts of divining and witchcraft, and it may be readily concluded that her efforts in her own behalf were no less profitable.
In the spring of 1806 Mrs Perigo, who lived with her husband at Bramley, a village at a short distance from Leeds, was seized with a 'flacking', or fluttering in her breast whenever she lay down, and applying to a quack doctor of the place, he assured her that it was beyond his cure, for that an 'evil wish' had been laid upon her, and that the arts of sorcery must be resorted to in order to effect her relief. While in this dilemma, she was visited by her niece, a girl named Stead, who at that time filled a situation as a household servant at Leeds, and who had taken advantage of the Whitsuntide holidays to go round to see her friends. Stead expressed her sorrow to find her aunt in so terrible a situation, and recommended an immediate appeal to the prisoner, whose powers she described as fully equal to get rid of any affection of the kind, whether produced by mortal or diabolical charms. An application was at once determined on, and Stead was employed to broach the subject to the diviner. She, in consequence, paid the prisoner a visit at her house in Black Dog Yard, near the bank at Leeds. Having acquainted her with the nature of the malady by which her aunt was affected, she was informed that the prisoner knew a lady who lived at Scarborough, and that if a flannel petticoat or some article of dress, which was worn next the skin of the patient, was sent to her, she would at once communicate with this lady upon the subject.
On the following Tuesday, William Perigo, the husband of the deceased, proceeded to her house, and having handed over his wife's flannel petticoat, the prisoner said that she would write to Miss Blythe, who was the lady to whom she had alluded at Scarborough, by the same night's post, and that an answer would doubtless be returned by that day week, when he was to call again. On the day mentioned, Perigo was true to his appointment, and the prisoner produced to him a letter, saying that it had arrived from Miss Blythe, and that it contained directions as to what was to be done. After a great deal of circumlocution and mystery the letter was opened and read by the prisoner, and it was found that it contained an order 'that Mary Bateman should go to Perigo's house at Bramley, and should take with her four guinea notes, which were enclosed, and that she should sew them into the four corners of the bed, in which the diseased woman slept.' There they were to remain for eighteen months. Perigo was to give her four other notes of like value, to be returned to Scarborough. Unless all these directions were strictly attended to, the charm would be useless and would not work. On the 4th of August the prisoner went over to Bramley, and having shown the four notes, proceeded apparently to sew them up in silken bags, which she delivered over to Mrs Perigo to be placed in the bed. The four notes desired to be returned were then handed to her by Perigo and she retired, directing her dupes frequently to send to her house, as letters might be expected from Miss Blythe. In about a fortnight, another letter was produced, and it contained directions that two pieces of iron in the form of horse-shoes should be nailed up by the prisoner at Perigo's door, but that the nails should not be driven in with a hammer, but with the back of a pair of pincers, and that the pincers were to be sent to Scarborough, to remain in the custody of Miss Blythe for the eighteen months already mentioned in the charm. The prisoner accordingly again visited Bramley and, having nailed up the horse-shoes, received and carried off the pincers.
In October the following letter was received by Perigo, bearing the signature of the supposed Miss Blythe.
'My dear Friend -- You must go down to Mary Bateman's at Leeds, on Tuesday next, and carry two guinea notes with you and give her them, and she will give you other two that I have sent to her from Scarborough, and you must buy me a small cheese about six or eight pound weight, and it must be of your buying, for it is for a particular use, and it is to be carried down to Mary Bateman's, and she will send it to me by the coach -- This letter is to be burned when you have done reading it.'
From this time to the month of March 1807, a great number of letters were received, demanding the transmission of various articles to Miss Blythe through the medium of the prisoner. All these were to be preserved by her until the expiration of the eighteen months. In the course of the same period money to the amount of near seventy pounds was paid over, Perigo, upon each occasion of payment, receiving silk bags, containing what were pretended to be coins or notes of corresponding value, which were to be sewn up in the bed as before. In March 1807, the following letter arrived.
'My dear Friends - I will be obliged to you if you will let me have half-a-dozen of your china, three silver spoons, half-a-pound of tea, two pounds of loaf sugar, and a tea canister to put the tea in, or else it will not do -- I durst not drink out of my own china. You must burn this with a candle.'
The china, &c, not having been sent, in the month of April Miss Blythe wrote as follows:
'My dear Friends -- I will be obliged to you if you will buy me a camp bedstead, bed and bedding, a blanket, a pair of sheets, and a long bolster must come from your house. You need not buy the best feathers, common ones will do. I have laid on the floor for three nights, and I cannot lay on my own bed owing to the planets being so bad concerning your wife, and I must have one of your buying or it will not do. You must bring down the china, the sugar, the caddy, the three silver spoons, and the tea at the same time when you buy the bed, and pack them up altogether. My brother's boat will be up in a day or two, and I will order my brother's boatman to call for them all at Mary Bateman's, and you must give Mary Bateman one shilling for the boatman, and I will place it to your account. Your wife must burn this as soon as it is read or it will not do.'
This had the desired effect, and the prisoner having called upon the Perigos, she accompanied them to the shops of a Mr Dobbin and a Mr Musgrave at Leeds, to purchase the various articles named. These were eventually bought at a cost of sixteen pounds, and sent to Mr Sutton's, at the Lion and Lamb Inn, Kirkgate, there to await the arrival of the supposed messenger.
At the end of April, the following letter arrived:
'My dear Friends -- I am sorry to tell you you will take an illness in the month of May next, one or both of you, but I think both, but the works of God must have its course. You will escape the chambers of the grave; though you seem to be dead, yet you will live. Your wife must take half-a-pound of honey down from Bramley to Mary Bateman's at Leeds, and it must remain there till you go down yourself, and she will put in such like stuff as I have sent from Scarbro' to her, and she will put it in when you come down, and see her yourself, or it will not do. You must eat pudding for six days, and you must put in such like stuff as I have sent to Mary Bateman from Scarbro', and she will give your wife it, but you must not begin to eat of this pudding while I let you know. If ever you find yourself sickly at any time, you must take each of you a teaspoonful of this honey; I will remit twenty pounds to you on the 20th day of May, and it will pay a little of what you owe. You must bring this down to Mary Bateman's, and burn it at her house, when you come down next time.' The instructions contained in this letter were complied with, and the prisoner having first mixed a white powder in the honey, handed over six others of the same colour and description to Mrs Perigo, saying that they must be used in the precise manner mentioned upon them, or they would all be killed. On the 5th of May, another letter arrived in the following terms:
'My dear Friends -- You must begin to eat pudding on the 11th of May, and you must put one of the powders in every day as they are marked, for six days -- and you must see it put in yourself every day or else it will not do. If you find yourself sickly at any time you must not have no doctor, for it will not do, and you must not let the boy that used to eat with you eat of that pudding for six days; and you must make only just as much as you can eat yourselves, if there is any left it will not do. You must keep the door fast as much as possible or you will be overcome by some enemy. Now think on and take my directions or else it will kill us all. About the 25th of May I will come to Leeds and send for your wife to Mary Bateman's; your wife will take me by the hand and say, "God bless you that I ever found you out." It has pleased God to send me into the world that I might destroy the works of darkness; I call them the works of darkness because they are dark to you -- now mind what I say whatever you do, This letter must be burned in straw on the hearth by your wife.'
The absurd credulity of Mr and Mrs Perigo even yet favoured the horrid designs of the prisoner; and, in obedience to the directions which they received, they began to eat the puddings on the day named. For five days they had no particular flavour, but upon the sixth powder being mixed, the pudding was found so nauseous that the former could only eat one or two mouthfuls, while his wife managed to swallow three or four. They were both directly seized with violent vomiting and Mrs Perigo, whose faith appears to have been greater than that of her husband, at once had recourse to the honey. Their sickness continued during the whole day, but although Mrs Perigo suffered the most intense torments, she positively refused to hear of a doctor's being sent for, lest, as she said, the charm should be broken by Miss Blythe's directions being opposed. The recovery of the husband, from the illness by which he was affected, slowly progressed; but the wife, who persisted in eating the honey, continued daily to lose strength. She at length expired on the 24th of May, her last words being a request to her husband not to be 'rash' with Mary Bateman, but to await the coming of the appointed time. Mr Chorley, a surgeon, was subsequently called in to see her body, but although he expressed his firm belief that the death of the deceased was caused by her having taken poison, and although that impression was confirmed by the circumstance of a cat dying immediately after it had eaten some of the pudding, no further steps were taken to ascertain the real cause of death, and Perigo even subsequently continued in communication with the prisoner.
Upon his informing her of the death of his wife, she at once declared that it was attributable to her having eaten all the honey at once. Then in the beginning of June, he received the following letter from Miss Blythe: 'My dear Friend -- I am sorry to tell you that your wife should touch of those things which I ordered her not, and for that reason it has caused her death; it had likened to have killed me at Scarborough, and Mary Bateman at Leeds, and you and all, and for this reason, she will rise from the grave, she will stroke your face with her right hand, and you will lose the use of one side, but I will pray for you. I would not have you to go to no doctor, for it will not do. I would have you to eat and drink what you like, and you will be better. Now, my dear friend, take my directions, do and it will be better for you. Pray God bless you. Amen. Amen. You must burn this letter immediately after it is read.'
Letters were also subsequently received by him, purporting to be from the same person, in which new demands for clothing, coals, and other articles were made, but at length, in the month of October 1808, two years having elapsed since the commencement of the charm, he thought that the time had fully arrived when, if any good effects were to be produced from it, they would have been apparent, and that therefore he was entitled to look for his money in the bed. He in consequence commenced a search for the little silk bags in which his notes and money had been, as he supposed, sewn up; but although the bags indeed were in precisely the same positions in which they had been placed by his deceased wife, by some unaccountable conjuration, the notes and gold had turned to rotten cabbage-leaves and bad farthings. The darkness, by which the truth had been so long obscured, now passed away, and having communicated with the prisoner, by a stratagem, meeting her under pretence of receiving from her a bottle of medicine, which was to cure him from the effects of the puddings which still remained, he caused her to be apprehended. Upon her house being searched, nearly all the property sent to the supposed Miss Blythe was found in her possession, and a bottle containing a liquid mixed with two powders, one of which proved to be oatmeal, and the other arsenic, was taken from her pocket when she was taken into custody.
The rest of the evidence against the prisoner went to show that there was no such person as Miss Blythe living at Scarborough, and that all the letters which had been received by Perigo were in her own handwriting, and had been sent by her to Scarborough to be transmitted back again. An attempt was also proved to have been made by her to purchase some arsenic, at the shop of a Mr Clough, in Kirkgate, in the month of April 1807. But the most important testimony was that of Mr Chorley, the surgeon, who distinctly proved that he had analysed what remained of the pudding and of the contents of the honey pot, and that he found them both to contain a deadly poison, called corrosive sublimate of mercury, and that the symptoms exhibited by the deceased and her husband were such as would have arisen from the administration of such a drug.
The prisoner's defence consisted of a simple denial of the charge, and the learned judge then proceeded to address the jury. Having stated the nature of the allegations made in the indictment, he said that in order to come to a conclusion as to the guilt of the prisoner, it was necessary that three points should be clearly made out. 1st. That the deceased died of poison. 2nd. That that poison was administered by the contrivance and knowledge of the prisoner. 3rd. That it was so done for the purpose of occasioning the death of the deceased. A large body of evidence had been laid before them, to prove that the prisoner had engaged in schemes of fraud against the deceased and her husband, which was proved not merely by the evidence of Wm. Perigo, but by the testimony of other witnesses. The inference the prosecutors drew from this fraud was the existence of a powerful motive or temptation to commit a still greater crime, for the purpose of escaping the shame and punishment which must have attended the detection of the fraud -- a fraud so gross, that it excited his surprise that any individual in that age and nation could be the dupe of it. But the jury should not go beyond this inference, and presume that, because the prisoner had been guilty of fraud, she was of course likely to have committed the crime of murder. That, if proved, must be shown by other evidence. His Lordship then proceeded to recapitulate the whole of the evidence, as detailed in the preceding pages, and concluded with the following observations. 'It is impossible not to be struck with wonder at the extraordinary credulity of Wm. Perigo, which neither the loss of his property, the death of his wife nor his own severe sufferings, could dispel. It was not until the month of October in the following year, that he ventured to open his his treasure, and found there what everyone in court must have anticipated, that he would find not a single vestige of his property. His evidence is laid before the jury with the observation which arises from this uncommon want of judgement, but his memory appears to be very retentive and his evidence is confirmed, and that in different parts of the narrative, by other witnesses, while many parts of the case do not rest upon his evidence at all. The illness and peculiar symptoms, which preceded the death of his wife, his own severe sickness, and a variety of other circumstances attending the experiments made upon the pudding, were proved by separate and independent testimony. It is most strange that, in a case of so much suspicion as it appeared to have excited at the time, the interment of the body should have taken place without any inquiry as to the cause of death, an inquiry which then would have been much less difficult, though the fact of the deceased having died of poison is now well established. The main question is, did the prisoner contrive the means to induce the deceased to take it? If she did so contrive the means, the intent could only be to destroy. Poison so deadly could not be administered with any other view. The jury will lay all the facts and circumstances together; and if they feel them press so strongly against the prisoner, as to induce a conviction of the prisoner's having procured the deceased to take poison with an intent to occasion her death, they will find her guilty. If they do not think the evidence conclusive, they will, in that case, find the prisoner not guilty.'
The jury, after conferring for a moment, found the prisoner guilty, and the judge proceeded to pass sentence of death upon her, in nearly the following words:
'Mary Bateman, you have been convicted of wilful murder by a jury who, after having examined your case with caution, have, constrained by the force of evidence, pronounced you guilty. It only remains for me to fulfil my painful duty by passing upon you the awful sentence of the law. After you have been so long in the situation in which you now stand, and harassed as your mind must be by the long detail of your crimes and by listening to the sufferings you have occasioned, I do not wish to add to your distress by saying more than my duty renders necessary. Of your guilt, there cannot remain a particle of doubt in the breast of anyone who has heard your case. You entered into a long and premeditated system of fraud, which you carried on for a length of time which is most astonishing, and by means which one would have supposed could not, in this age and nation, have been practised with success. To prevent a discovery of your complicated fraud, and the punishment which must have resulted therefrom, you deliberately contrived the death of the persons you had so grossly injured, and that by means of poison, a mode of destruction against which there is no sure protection. But your guilty design was not fully accomplished, and, after so extraordinary a lapse of time, you are reserved as a signal example of the justice of that mysterious Providence, which, sooner or later, overtakes guilt like yours. At the very time when you were apprehended, there is the greatest reason to suppose, that if your surviving victim had met you alone, as you wished him to do, you would have administered to him a more deadly dose, which would have completed the diabolical project you had long before formed, but which at that time only partially succeeded; for upon your person, at that moment, was found a phial containing a most deadly poison. For crimes like yours, in this world, the gates of mercy are closed. You afforded your victim no time for preparation, but the law, while it dooms you to death, has, in its mercy, afforded you time for repentance, and the assistance of pious and devout men, whose admonitions, and prayers, and counsels may assist to prepare you for another world, where even your crimes, if sincerely repented of, may find mercy.
'The sentence of the law is, and the court doth award it, That you be taken to the place from whence you came, and from thence, on Monday next, to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and that your body be given to the surgeons to be dissected and anatomized. And may Almighty God have mercy upon your soul.'
The prisoner having intimated that she was pregnant, the clerk of the arraigns said, 'Mary Bateman, what have you to say, why immediate execution should not be awarded against you?' On which the prisoner pleaded that she was twenty-two weeks gone with child. On this plea the judge ordered the sheriff to empanel a jury of matrons: this order created a general consternation among the ladies, who hastened to quit the court, to prevent the execution of so painful an office being imposed upon them. His lordship, in consequence, ordered the doors to be closed, and in about half-an- hour, twelve married women being empanelled, they were sworn in court, and charged to inquire 'whether the prisoner was with quick child?' The jury of matrons then retired with the prisoner, and on their return into court delivered their verdict, which was that Mary Bateman is not with quick child. The execution of course was not respited, and she was remanded back to prison.
During the brief interval between her receiving sentence of death and her execution, the ordinary, the Rev George Brown, took great pains to prevail upon her ingenuously to acknowledge and confess her crimes. Though the prisoner behaved with decorum during the few hours that remained of her existence, and readily joined in the customary offices of devotion, no traits of that deep compunction of mind which, for crimes like hers, must be felt where repentance is sincere, could be observed; but she maintained her caution and mystery to the last. On the day preceding her execution, she wrote a letter to her husband, in which she enclosed her wedding-ring, with a request that it might be given to her daughter. She admitted that she had been guilty of many frauds, but still denied that she had had any intention to produce the death of Mr or Mrs Perigo.
Upon the Monday morning at five o'clock she was called from her cell, to undergo the last sentence of the law. She received the communion with some other prisoners, who were about to be executed on the same day, but all attempts to induce her to acknowledge the justice of her sentence, or the crime of which she had been found guilty, proved vain. She maintained the greatest firmness in her demeanour to the last, which was in no wise interrupted even upon her taking leave of her infant child, which lay sleeping in her cell.
Upon the appearance of the convict upon the platform, the deepest silence prevailed amongst the immense assemblage of persons which had been collected to witness the execution. As final duty, the Rev Mr Brown, immediately before the drop fell again exhorted the unhappy woman to confession, but her only reply was a repetition of the declaration of her innocence, and the next moment terminated her existence.
Her body having remained suspended during the usual time, was cut down, and sent to the General Infirmary at Leeds to be anatomized. Immense crowds of persons assembled to meet the hearse in which it was carried, and so great was the desire of the people to see her remains, that 30L. were collected for the of the infirmary, by the payment of 3d. for each person admitted to the apartment in which they were exposed.
Mary Bateman was neat in her person and dress, and though there was nothing ingenuous in her countenance, it had an air of placidity and composure, not ill adapted to make a favourable impression on those who visited her. Her manner of address was soft and insinuating, with the affectation of sanctity. In her domestic arrangements she was regular, and was mistress of such qualifications in housewifery as, with an honest heart, would have enabled her to fill her station with respectability and usefulness.