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.


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 7 May 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). In 1856 Frederick Ward were sent to prison at Cockatoo Island for ten years for receiving stolen horses. They served only four years and were released with Tickets of Leave. Ward returned to the Garbutt's station for Mary Ann and with her young child, she accompanied Ward to Dungog. (Mary's husband had died while Ward had been in gaol.)

In October 1861, Ward was again arrested for horse theft and once again sent to Cockatoo Island, Leaving Mary Ann to give birth to their first child alone. But this crafty woman moved her and her newborn to Balmain, placed both her children in care and then swam to Cockatoo Island with a file for Ward to cut through his chains. This was the first ever escape from Cockatoo island, and the government was extremely embarrassed by it. After swimming to freedom, the couple moved to the Hunter Valley where Ward became the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt.

Mary's mixed heritage gave this bad ass 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, 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.

Although she was an extremely talented lady herself, she was 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, from Mary, Ward learnt how to read and write. In addition to being a supportive wife, Mary was also a loving mother. Despite being on the run, she endeavoured to spend as much time as possible with her children as did Fred Ward.

At a camp with Thunderbolt, the cops found her with a pile of stolen stuff, Thunderbolt bailed and left 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. On the way to the police station Mary Ann 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.


Most Thunderbolt books claim that Mary Ann died at the Goulburn River in November 1867, however this was a woman named Louisa Mason alias Yellow Long, wife of Robert Michael Mason of Rouchel near Scone. Mary Ann fell pregnant again a few weeks after Louisa Mason's death, but she and Ward separated a short time later. Their son Frederick Wordsworth Ward was born at Carroll in August 1868. In the aftermath, Mary Ann settled again with John Burrows and had another four children who survived infancy: Ada Gertrude (1870), Ida Margaret (1874), George Herbert (1820). Burrows died prior to 1900 and Mary Ann found work as a nurse to support herself, before dying on 22 April 1905 at Mudgee. Her son Frederick took after his birth father, becoming a groom and later a horse-trainer; he died unmarried as Frederick Wordsworth Burrows in 1937.


  • 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

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