In 1865 police had tracked the notorious bushranger Captain Thunderbolt to his camp in the Maitland area. What they found was a heavily pregnant woman and two of her children. The woman, Mary Ann Bugg, taunted them for not being able to catch her lover and only finding herself and her children and not the bushranger. She attacked them when they tried to capture her.
Mary Ann Bugg. Courtesy Royal Australian Historical Society
Mary Ann Bugg had been born to ex-convict James Bugg and Indigenous Worimi woman, Charlotte in the Gloucester area on 7 May 1834. Her father was determined she would receive an education and paid for Mary Ann to attend school in Sydney, where she learned to read and write. It was obvious James loved Mary Ann's mother as he continually petitioned the church to be able to marry her.
In 1848 when James finally married Charlotte, Mary Ann also married, at the age of 14, an ex-convict named Edmund Baker and had a child a year later. The marriage didn't last long and they broke up in 1849. Mary Ann went on to have two more partners and six children before she met Frederick Wordsworth Ward.
Frederick was the son of convict Michael Ward and his wife Sophie, born in 1835 in the Windsor area, the youngest of 10 children. As a young lad of 11 he started to develop his horsemanship skills as he worked on numerous stations around northern NSW.
Frederick's nephew John Garbutt became the ringleader of a large horse and cattle stealing operation and Fred helped him drive some four dozen stolen horses from the Lambs Valley property of his brother William to Windsor where they were sold at auction. It was to be the beginning of Fred's bushranging ways.
In 1861 Mary Ann and Frederick met, while she was living with ex-convict James McNally and her children at a farm in Cooyal. Mary Ann fell pregnant with Fred's child so he took her to the Mudgee district and her father's farm near Dungog, where she could have her baby when it was time. He returned late for his three monthly muster on a stolen horse. His ticket-of-leave was revoked and he ended up on Cockatoo Island.
Frederick Wordsworth Ward aka Captain Thunderbolt, after being shot at Uralla in 1870. Courtesy Wikipedia
As Mary Ann remained working at Dungog, Fred was escaping from Cockatoo Island with his new 'partner-in-crime' Frederick Britten. They headed to the New England district, robbing a shepherd's hut and ambushing the mail near Split Rock (now Captain Thunderbolt's Rock). Ward had crowned himself with the moniker 'Captain Thunderbolt' in 1863.
Over the next four years Mary Ann was to be by Fred's side as they robbed mailmen, travellers, inns, stores and stations from the Hunter region to Tamworth, Queensland and out to Bourke. When Mary Ann was cornered by the police in 1865, it was the first time people were to become aware of this female bushranger. The Maitland Mercury reported that she:
“sprung like a tigress upon one of the police, ribboning his uniform, and taunting him with cowardice for seeking her apprehension instead of Thunderbolt’s.”
Whether Mary Ann feigned her contractions, the police against their better judgement had to leave her and the children at a nearby property as they continued the hunt for Captain Thunderbolt. Miraculously, her contractions disappeared when the police left. When Thunderbolt came by the station, Mary Ann and the children escaped.
Mary Ann played a key role in supporting Ward's bushranging ways. She helped to provide food and shelter, disseminated false information, nursed Ward back to health after he was shot, bore him three children and, many colonists alleged, took part in the robberies herself.
The Captain's Lady - The Ballad of Mary Ann Bugg by Bill 'Swampy' Marsh
It is interesting to note in 1866, when she was arrested for vagrancy Senior Sergeant Kerrigan revealed that while Mary Ann was living in the bush, she dressed in men's pants. Quite a shock for those following the story, where women were expected to wear petticoats and dresses.
By 1867 Mary Ann had fallen pregnant with her last child to Fred and decided to leave him and his bushranging ways. Three years later, Captain Thunderbolt was shot dead at Uralla. She was no longer the Captain's Lady, as she had fashioned herself.
Mary Ann's final resting place in Mudge General Cemetery. Photo FindaGrave
Mary Ann married John Burrows, her longest-term partner, having five more children, a total of 15 (two deceased). She went on to become a nurse and bought land. She lived until 70 years of age where she died in Mudgee on 22 April, 1905.
Meg Foster, 'Bugg, Mary Ann (1834–1905)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/bugg-mary-ann-29654/text36621, accessed 12 May 2021.
'Captain Thunderbolt', Wikipedia, accessed 13th May, 2021, Captain Thunderbolt - Wikipedia
'Mary Ann Bugg's husbands and offspring', Bushranger Thunderbolt and Mary Ann Bugg, accessed 14th May, 2021, Mary Ann Bugg and her children - Bushranger Thunderbolt and Mary Ann Bugg (thunderboltbushranger.com.au)