Mary Ann Bugg

Mary Ann Bugg: Captain Thunderbolt’s Lady

(reproduced with permission from Carol Baxter’s website www.thunderboltbushranger.com.au)

For the full story of Mary Ann’s life and activities as Thunderbolt’s bushranging companion, see Carol Baxter’s book Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady: the true story of bushrangers Frederick Ward and Mary Ann Bugg


Mary Ann Bugg was the eldest child of assigned convict James Bugg and his Aboriginal “wife” Charlotte and was born at the Australian Agricultural Company’s Berrico outstation near Gloucester New South Wales on 7 May 1834. A further seven children were born in the aftermath, with her parents marrying in 1848.

Late in 1837, James Bugg expressed concern that his two children should receive an education “so as to ensure the abandonment of their savage life”. The Company’s Commissioner, Colonel Henry Dumaresq, approached the authorities and eventually received the Governor’s approval to send them to the Orphan School “until the Native Institution at Port Phillip [Melbourne] is in a state to receive them”. Plans were put on hold when Dumaresq died suddenly.

A year later, on 24 February 1839, Mary Ann and her brother John were baptised in a Church of England ceremony on the Company’s estate. The following day Dumaresq’s temporary replacement wrote to the Governor advising that the children had been baptised and that James Bugg was proceeding with them to Sydney “for the purpose of disposing of them as you may be pleased to direct”.

As it turned out, Mary Ann and her brother were not admitted to the Orphan Schools, perhaps because Governor George Gipps had replaced Governor Richard Bourke in the interim and policy had changed. A magistrate who knew the Bugg family later reported that Mary Ann had been “sent to a school in Sydney where she remained about five years”, so she perhaps attended a day school and boarded nearby, or boarded with the family of a cleric who tutored on the side.

Mary Ann returned to her family at Berrico in the mid-1840s where she was “brought up in settled habits like other children on a station”. On 1 June 1848 she married ex-convict  Edmund Baker at the Anglican church at Stroud. They seem to have had a daughter Helena born around 1849, although this cannot be stated with certainty. For some unknown reason, they separated in 1849 or 1850, possibly because Baker died although no trace has been found his death.

In July 1851, Mary Ann and her new partner, shepherd John Burrows, had a son James born at the Turon River. Her obituary reported that she “was at the Turon diggings and saw the first gold got there”, although Burrows apparently continued to work as a shepherd in the Turon district rather than digging for gold.

By February 1854 when their second son John was baptised, Burrows was shepherding at Louee station near Mudgee. The couple separated in 1854 or 1855, again for unknown reasons.

By mid-1855, Mary Ann was living with ex-convict James McNally. A daughter Mary Jane was born early in 1856, a son Patrick William late in 1857, and another daughter Ellen in March 1860. McNally was recorded as a farmer at Cooyal later that year and continued to live in the Mudgee district until his death in 1875.

Early in 1861, Mary Ann fell pregnant to ticket-of-leave convict Frederick Wordsworth Ward who had been granted permission to reside in the Mudgee district until his period of servitude expired in 1866. (see Frederick Ward’s biography)

In mid-1861, Fred took Mary Ann back to her father’s farm at Monkerai near Stroud New South Wales where their daughter Marina Emily was born in October 1861.

However Fred was not around to greet the new arrival. Ticket-of-leave regulations decreed that he remain in his muster district and attend a three-monthly muster, so he broke one rule when he left the district, and broke another when he failed to return in time for the muster.

Accordingly, his ticket-of-leave was revoked. He compounded the problem by riding in on a stolen horse and was sentenced to another three years servitude. He returned to the Cockatoo Island penal settlement soon afterwards.

Claims have been made that Mary Ann helped Fred Ward escape from Cockatoo Island two years later in September 1863, but the evidence proves otherwise. “When Ward came to grief,” wrote the above-mentioned magistrate in 1866, Mary Ann “returned to her father’s home and remained there till she obtained employment as a domestic in a family near Dungog, and she remained so employed in the same locality till Ward joined her after his escape from Cockatoo Island.”

Fred and Mary Ann fled to the Culgoa River, north-west of Walgett, where they camped until early 1865 when Fred joined forces with another three villains and began robbing in the district. Mary Ann was apprehended by the police in March 1865 after they found stolen goods in her camp but she feigned labour and the police were forced to leave her at Wilby Wilby station.

Fred and his gang rescued her early in April and took her down to the Tamworth district where Fred engaged another part-Aboriginal woman to assist with her delivery. He and his gang then returned to bushranging. Their daughter Eliza was born in mid-1865.

In March 1866, the police encountered the Wards again at their Pigna Barney Creek camp in the Barrington Tops. Mary Ann was taken into custody for vagrancy. After her conviction, a Parliamentary outcry led the Attorney General to recommend her release on the grounds that the charge was not properly prepared.

Early in 1867, Mary Ann was apprehended by the police for being in possession of stolen goods. Although she claimed to have purchased them, she was unable to produce receipts so she was again sent to gaol. A concerned magistrate looked into her case and found that a shopman could attest to her purchases. Again she was released from gaol.

Mary Ann fell pregnant again late in 1867 and their son Frederick Wordsworth Ward junior was born in August 1868. By that time, Fred and Mary Ann had separated, and she was working at Griffin’s Inn at Carroll.

In 1869 Mary Ann encountered John Burrows again and they settled together in the Mudgee district, spending the rest of their lives together. The last of Mary Ann’s fifteen known children were born in the 1870s.

In her final years – presumably after Burrows death – Mary Ann worked as a nurse to support herself. She died at Mudgee on 22 April 1905 at her home in Gladstone Street, Mudgee, her cause of death listed as “senile decay”.