Mary Ann Bugg

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Mary Ann Bugg (7 May 1834 – 22 April 1867) was a badass 1800s bushranging Mum, aka the ultimate multitasker. She was a Worimi woman who, after ending up a widowed single Mother, hooked up with notorious horse stealer Fred Ward. Who would soon become known as the famous “Captain Thunderbolt”. Mary Ann helped Fred evade police, hunted their food, and even taught him how to read and write. Yet she was still referred to by newspapers as ‘Captain Thunderbolts Half Caste’. That is, until one day, when apprehended by police, she did something that finally got her name in the papers.

Early Life

Mary ann bugg.jpg

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 on May 7, 1834. At the age of 14, yup 14, she married a shepherd named Edmund Baker and together they moved to Mudgee. The couple were hired by a Mrs. Garbutt whose son, James, was involved with a cattle thief named Frederick Ward. It was love at first site for Mary and Ward (probs).

The Ward Escape

In 1856, Frederick Ward was convicted of receiving stolen horses, and sent to prison at Cockatoo Island for ten years. He served only four years and was released with Tickets of Leave. Mary's husband died while Ward was in gaol, so Ward returned to the Garbutt's station to reunite with Mary Ann, who had a young child by then. Mary and child (the not-so biblical pair) then accompanied Ward to Dungog.

In October 1861, Ward was again arrested for horse theft and sent back to Cockatoo Island, leaving Mary Ann to give birth to their first child alone. Mary, however, was a pretty crafty woman, and proceeded to move to Balmain, where she placed both her newborn and older child in care, and then swam to Cockatoo Island with a file for Ward to cut through his chains... Well thats how the folklore tells it, probs not 100% accurate.

It is true however that Ward escaped - and it was a pretty ballsy escape. Ye olde Sydney Harbour was shark-infested waters and cockatoo island was super intensely patrolled by guards, so yeh, escaping from Cockatoo Island was pretty darn hard. On 11th September 1863 Ward and fellow inmate Frederick Brittain, became the only prisoners to ever escape from the Island.

Many years later Mary Ann revealed to her old friend Police Constable William Langworthy they had achieved the escape. According to Langworthy (via Mary Ann) while Fred was in prison Mary Ann was living in Balmain and stealthily checked out the general surveillance pattern of the island. When they actually made the escape Mary Ann stood on the foreshore with a lighting the way for them to safely come ashore. The ever prepared lady had horses waiting and they all north to the Hunter Valley undetected. There is no real evidence to prove this, or that even Mary Ann worked in the Balmain district, but hey, its made for a great story!

The Thunderbolt Years

Mary's mixed heritage gave this badass Sheila a diverse set of skills that helped navigate her outlaw life immensely. From her mother's side, she learnt how to survive in the Australian bush by making shelters and finding food. From her father, Mary gained the opportunity to go to boarding school where she learnt to read and write, and carry herself like a “refined European lady”. Her ability to carry herself like a lady, or live like a bushman, gave Mary the ability to seamlessly slip between worlds. Eat your heart out, Quinn Mallory! (Come on, everyone loved Sliders!)

Back to Mary, although she was an extremely talented lady herself, she also gained a great deal of pride from her association with Ward. On several occasions she referred to herself as the 'Captain's Lady' and held her head high when she said so. With her help, Ward gained the opportunity to evade capture for six years, far longer than most bushrangers of the era. Furthermore, thanks to Mary, Ward learnt how to read and write. In addition to being a supportive wife, Mary was also a loving mother, as she endeavoured to spend as much time as possible with her children, as did Fred Ward, despite being on the run.

At a camp with Thunderbolt, the cops found her with a stash of stolen goods, and Thunderbolt bailed, leaving her with the children. Heavily pregnant she jumped off her horse “like a tigress” onto a Policeman, shredded up his shirt, mocked him and called him a coward for going after her instead of Thunderbolt, before challenging the officer to one-on-one combat. Forget being like a tigress, Mary clearly had the courage of a lion! On the way to the police station, she even pretended to go into labor. Panicking, the officers dropped Bugg off at a station to pursue Thunderbolt, at which point Mary Ann slipped off into the bush with her child.

Something(s) About Mary

  • Mary Ann had 15 children she gave birth to some whilst on the run from the law
  • The actress who plays Mary Ann in Sheilas is a descendant of Mary
  • Historians believe Captain Thunderbolt's reluctance to use firearms was influenced by Mary Ann's hatred of guns
  • Mystery surrounds Mary Ann's death. Many historians originally believed Mary died in 1867, though reports were never conclusive. New research has uncovered compelling evidence that Mary Ann may have lived for many more years under a new name - Mary Ann Burrows. The death certificate of Burrows matches many details of Mary's life, though it includes two previously unknown husbands, abundance of unidentified children, and strangely lists her place of birth as New Zealand, possibly to put people off the trail of tracking down her past life as a bushranger. [5]
  • If she did live past 1867, Mary would have been the last true Bushranger in New South Wales, a title often given to her husband who died in 1870.
  • Mary Ann was noted in the newspaper as having often dressed in "men's attire"
  • The editor of the Maitland Mercury noted that Mary "can read and write far better than most European women" and she is believed to have taught Captain Thunderbolt to read
  • Mary Ann knew how to manipulate the media, she was known to have loud conversations in earshot of others in the hope that what she said was reported in the press
  • The Governor of NSW, Sir John Young, twice ordered Mary Ann's release for wrongful imprisonment following public outcries[6]
  • Children at the local school were allowed time off to watch Thunderbolt and Mary Ann's wedding
  • Mary Ann's father’s last name was Brigg during his time as a convict, due to a clerk's mis-transcription but he later changed it to Bugg, a reference to the "bugbears" (goblins) made famous in the Brothers Grimm’s fairytales


References