Mary Ann Bugg was born on 7th May 1834 near Gloucester, Stroud in NSW. Her father was a shepherd named James Brigg, he later changed his name to Bugg. He had been transported for life on the charge of stealing meat. In 1834 he was granted a Ticket of Leave. Mary Ann’s mother was an Aboriginal woman named Elizabeth. There was also a son named John born 5th February 1836.
Mary Ann and her brother were sent to a boarding school in Sydney by the Australian Agricultural company when she was four years old. She returned to Stroud in 1845 and was employed in domestic chores.
On 1st June 1848 (she was 14) she married Edmund Baker. Edmund took up work at ‘Cooyal’ Station, north-east of Mudgee, which was owned by the Garbutt family. Mrs Sarah Ann Garbutt was Fred Ward’s sister.
In 1856 Ward and Garbutt were sentenced to Cockatoo Island prison for ten years for receiving stolen horses. After serving only four years they were released on Ticket of Leave. They returned to ‘Cooyal’ in July 1860.
During the time Ward was in goal, Baker died and Mary Ann returned to Stroud and obtained work in the local Anglican boarding school near the Church of England church. Fred followed her to Stroud and found employment on a local property. By late 1860 Fred and Mary Ann were married in the Church of England church at Stroud.
Once a month Fred had to attend Mudgee for muster and would borrow a horse from his employer for the trip. In October 1861 he borrowed the horse and attended muster in Mudgee. On his arrival he was arrested for arriving late for muster and for being in possession of a horse for which he could not prove ownership. He was returned to Cockatoo Island to serve the rest 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 Marina Emily Ward.
After this time family legend says that Mary Ann placed her baby into care as soon as Marina was weaned. She then moved to Balmain (which is near Cockatoo Island) where she found employment as a housemaid using the name Louisa Mason, (Mary Ann knew Louisa Mason at Stroud). Family legend says that she often went to the island with food and a file for Ward to cut the chains. This deed was made very difficult as the gaolers disposed of the offal into the waters around the island to encourage the presence of sharks. We will never know how true this is, but on 11th September 1863 Fred Ward and Fred Britten escaped by swimming to Balmain.
Mary Ann hid the two Freds in a disused boiler in the Balmain Industrial area while they waited for the police to stop searching for the escapees. They then moved north, and a few weeks later after giving the required notice at work Mary Ann followed the men.
Ward returned to the Hunter region to meet up with Mary Ann, and there he held up the Rutherford tollbar. This was the beginning of the “time of the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt”. Over the next six and a half years he ranged from south Queensland to the Hunter Valley, from Stroud to Bourke and Mudgee. The last two years he was around Armidale and Uralla.
Despite having two children and a third in March 1866, it seems that Mary Ann might have joined Ward and the gang on their many forays. Also, it seems that she had been adept at finding food and shelter in the mountainous areas. The gang concentrated most of their activities in these areas, which included catching and butchering stolen cattle. It seems that Mary Ann was very adept at going into townships undetected to obtain supplies. Also she was adept at obtaining information about police and coach movements, as well as the latest gossip.
Mary Ann has been reported as looking like a young man wearing knee-length Wellington boots, moleskin trousers, a Crimean shirt, monkey jacket and a cabbage tree hat. This being the dress of flash stockmen of that time. Also, Mary Ann rode astride, not side-saddle.
Although Mary Ann was a half-caste Aborigine, she had only a slightly darker complexion than most country women and looked like a European. She was proud of his association with Ward and on several occasions she referred to herself as the ‘Captain’s Lady’. She was totally and completely loyal to her husband.
Mary Ann taught Fred to read and write, and her aboriginal skills served them both well in their life in the bush. During her husband’s 6-year “career”, the longest of any bushranger in Australia, Mary Ann had four children while being pursued by police and citizen possies. Twice she was imprisoned and twice the Governor of NSW, Sir John Young, ordered her release for wrongful imprisonment. Mary Ann’s extraordinary hearing saved Thunderbolt many times. She would place her ear to the ground to receive warning of approaching horses.
Mary Ann Bugg died of pneumonia on 11th November 1867 on the Goulburn River, west of Muswellbrook. A Mrs Bradford had been approached by a grieving Fred Ward who said the ill woman was to be found in a gunyah close by. He said the woman was dying and he asked Mrs Bradford to care for her, or if she couldn’t, to report the situation to the police. Mrs Bradford found Mary Ann and took her home with her. Sadly Mary Ann died overnight.
It has been discovered that Mary Ann had a fourth child, a son, not long before her birth. Frederick Wordsworth Ward was registered in the “Tamworth Circuit” after her death in early 1868 to Frederick and Mary Ann Ward.
Not long after her death, the newspapers reported that Louisa Mason, alias Yellow Long, had died of pneumonia. The identity of this woman remains uncertain. This could have been about Mary Ann, as she used the name Louisa Mason when she was in Balmain and it is believed she used other aliases from time to time and was known as Yellilong, Yelliong or Yellow Long in the local Aboriginal communities..
There are many and varied accounts about Mary Ann Bugg and Louisa Mason. But which of the many stories is correct, we will probably never know.