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Mary Ann Bugg (1834 – November 11, 1867) was one of two notable female bushrangers in mid 19th century Australia.

Bugg's influence on her husband Frederick (Fred) Wordsworth Ward, the bushranger known as Captain Thunderbolt, is cited as the reason he was able to sustain a prolonged evasion of law enforcement. Her distinct femininity and Aboriginal heritage were the reasons for Ward's dislike of using firearms. She certainly taught him to read and write, and her skills developed as part of her Aboriginal background served them both well in their life in the bush. The blending of Aboriginal and European features in her created a remarkable beauty, which was commented on many times in her career.

Early years

Mary Ann Bugg was born near Stroudmarker in New South Walesmarker, Australia. Her father was a shepherd named James Brigg (who subsequently changed his name to Bugg), he was born in Essex, Englandmarker in 1801 and on 18 July 1825 was transported from England to Australia for life for stealing meat. He arrived in Sydneymarker on the ship "Sostris" on 26 March 1826, and on 15 January 1828 was assigned to the Australian Agricultural Company as Overseer of Shepherds. He was successful in his duties, and in 1834 was granted a ticket of leave. This meant he was technically a free man who could own property, but could not leave the Colony.

He took up with an Aboriginal woman called Elizabeth, and from this union were born Mary Ann and a son named John. The children were baptised in the Church of England faith in 1839. Later, when Mary Ann was 6, they sent her to a boarding school in Sydney by the Australian Agricultural Company. Mary Ann learned to read and write, sew, cook and perform other domestic skills. She probably had also been taught bushcraft and related Aboriginal skills by her mother during her early days in Stroud. (James subsequently took up with another part Aboriginal woman, Charlotte Derby, with whom he had a fathered 5 children. He married Charlotte in 1848 after their fourth child was born.) Mary Ann returned to Stroud in 1845 and was employed in domestic chores.

On June 1, 1846, at the age of 14 (and in common with many girls of the period,) she married a shepherd named Edmund Baker, and the couple moved to Cooyal near Mudgeemarker. They were employed by a woman named Mrs. Sarah Ann Shepherd (nee Ward), the mother of Frederick Ward. The farm was known as the Garbutt property, being the name of Mrs. Shepherd's first husband. Mary Ann would have met Ward there and possibly some attraction was formed between them over the next few years.

How the attraction may have developed is not known, for in 1856 both Ward and Garbutt were sentenced to Cockatoo Islandmarker prison for ten years for receiving stolen horses. They served only four years and were released on a ticket of leave, returning to the Cooyal Station in July 1860. While Ward had been in jail, Baker had died, so after a short time, Mary Ann left Cooyal and moved back to Stroud, where she found work in the local Anglican boarding school near the Church. Fred Ward followed her to Stroud where he married her in 1860. In marrying Fred Ward she became one of only two female bushrangers.


In an article in The Days That Were, Mrs. Dreamer wrote, "It was in Stroud and I was going to school at the time. Frederick Ward, that was Thunderbolt's name, was a nice looking young fellow, and the girl he married was Mary Bugg, daughter of Mr Jimmy Bugg who looked after the Pastoral Company's station at Port Stephensmarker. There was a great to-do at the church the day the wedding was on, and we were all let out of school to see them come out of the church."

Although no marriage certificate has ever been found, there are suggestions that a certificate might be in Saint Andrew's Archives in Sydney. This was not unusual at the time, as the parish belonged to the Australian Agricultural Company and the minister was a traveling minister. Many events which took place have subsequently been found not to have been registered.

Fred Ward had to attend regular muster at Mudgee Police Station. In October 1861, he borrowed a horse from his employer and returned to Mudgee to do so. When he arrived, he was arrested for being late and also for being in possession of a horse for which he could not prove ownership. He was returned to Cockatoo Island to serve the remainder of his sentence, plus another three years for the "crime" of stealing the horse. Two weeks later, Mary Ann gave birth to their first child, a girl named Marina Emily Ward.

Helping Fred Ward escape

The next few months are something of a mystery, however family tradition states Mary Ann placed Marina in care, as soon as she was weaned, and then moved to Balmainmarker (near Cockatoo Island), where she found employment as a housemaid under the name Louisa Mason. Family tradition further says that she frequently swam or went to the island with food for Ward and a file so he could cut through the chains of his companion, Fred Britten. This was made more difficult by the custom of the jailers of disposing of offal in the waters around the island to encourage the presence of sharks. Whether or not this is true, is not known. However, it is known that on 11 September 1863, Fred Ward and Fred Britten escaped by swimming to Balmain. It is believed Mary Ann assisted in this escape by swimming with them and protecting them from the sharks.

Mary Ann hid the two Freds in a disused boiler in the Balmain industrial area, while waiting for the police to stop their search. The police were slow to admit to the escape, as no one had ever escaped from Cockatoo Island before. After being hidden for several days, the men raided a clothes line in the area, taking the only sets of clothing they found (one male and one female), and moved north, to be followed a few weeks later by Mary Ann after she had given the required notice from her place of employment at Balmain. The two men were reported at Singletonmarker in November, and shortly afterwards robbed a hut on Gostwick Station near Urallamarker, stealing a firearm and food. On attempting to hold up a coach just south of Uralla, Fred Ward was shot and wounded. After this event, the men parted company, with Britten going to Victoriamarker.

Ward returned to the Hunter region to meet with Mary Ann. There he held up the Rutherford tollbar and thus began the "time of the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt". Over the next 6 and a half years, he ranged from southern Queenslandmarker to the Hunter Valleymarker, from Stroud near the coast, across the Liverpool Plains, west to Bourkemarker and Mudgee and, for the last two years of his career, around Armidalemarker and Uralla. It was south of Uralla at Kentucky Creek that Thunderbolt was finally pursued, shot and killed by Constable Alexander Binning Walker on 25 May 1870. There is still argument about the real identity of the person shot at Uralla, whether it was Frederick Wordsworth Ward or his uncle William (Harry) Ward. The body was simply identified by all who saw it as that of "Thunderbolt". Despite the fact that Fred had distinguishing warts on his left hand (according to police records), these identifying marks were not used to prove the identity of the body. It remained for Will Monkton to identify the body four days later as that of Fred Ward, a fact he would later deny as being correct.

Despite having two children (and a third in March 1866), all evidence indicates that Mary Ann accompanied Ward and the gang on some of its depredations, though she may not have been armed. Also, she seems to have been very adept at finding food and shelter for the gang in the mountainous terrain in which they concentrated most of their activities, including catching and butchering stolen cattle. She also seems to have been adept at going into townships undetected to obtain supplies or information about police and coach movements as well as the latest gossip. Several reports describe her as looking like a young man wearing knee-length, Wellington boots, moleskin trousers, a Crimean shirt, a monkey jacket and a cabbage tree hat, the dress of the flash stockmen of the day (and at a time when women did not wear men's clothing). Also, she rode astride (like a man would) and not sidesaddle, as was the custom for women in those days.

She was obviously a very intelligent and smart woman. She was also reported as being quite attractive. Her weakness was that she fell in love with the "wrong man", but even there she was proud of her association with Ward. On several occasions she referred to herself as the "Captain's Lady".


Mary Ann Bugg died of pneumonia on the Goulburn River (New South Wales) west of Muswellbrook on 11 November 1867, soon after being taken to the house of a Mrs. Bradford. Mrs. Bradford had been approached by a grieving Ward, who said the woman was to be found in a gunyah near by. The woman was dying and he asked if Mrs. Bradford could care for her, or if not report the circumstances to the police. Mrs. Bradford subsequently found the woman and took her to her house, but she died overnight.

From birth records (BDM V1868 1400 161), she had a fourth child not long before her death, as a son Frederick Wordsworth Ward was registered in the "Tamworth Circuit" after her death in early 1868 to Frederick & Mary Ann Ward. This birth may have contributed to her death.

Soon afterwards, the newspapers were reporting that Louisa Mason, alias Yellow Long, had died of pneumonia. The identity of this woman remains uncertain. It may have been Mary Ann who, knowing she was dying, had left her children after disappearing, and rejoined Ward for a last few days, weeks or months in the bush. Alternatively, it indeed may have been a different woman named Louisa Mason. There are, however, some strange coincidences that support the idea that it was Mary Ann Bugg. Mary Ann used the name Louisa Mason during the time she was in Balmain preparing for Ward's escape from Cockatoo Island. She is believed to have used other aliases from time to time and was known as Yellow Long in the local Aboriginal communities.

Whatever the truth, with her passing, Australia's colonial history lost another extraordinary individual. She was clever and talented, spirited, perhaps a bit of a larrikin, a mother and a loyal wife. She was the sort of person that colonial Australia of the 1860s needed and was possibly far ahead of her time. She may be criticized for her willing involvement with one of Australia's most notorious villains, but she was not the first (or last) woman to be 'guilty' of letting her heart rule her head. At least with Ward, she was given the opportunity to show her spirit and determination at a time when most women were subjugated to a life of raising children and crops. To quote Patrick White, "it is questionable if ever a bushranger had a mate more serviceable or devoted."


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