a.k.a. The Captain’s Lady


While Captain Thunderbolt’s life and crimes are widely reported, few people have heard of his wife, bushranger Mary Ann Bugg.


A Worimi woman and the daughter of an English convict, Mary Ann Bugg was born in 1834, the eldest of eight children. At an early age she was sent 250kms from the family home in Gloucester by her father to the Parramatta Orphan School in Sydney to prepare for life as a domestic servant. 

By the time Mary Ann was 14 she had returned home, married a local drover called Edmund Baker and given birth to a daughter – the first of her 15 children. Edmund’s work took them to the farm of the mother of Fred Ward, a.k.a. notorious bushranger Captain Thunderbolt

After Edmund reportedly passed away, Mary Ann partnered with a John Burrows and had two children. After they broke up she moved in with ex-convict James McNally and had three more children, all by the mid-1850s. 

By this time Fred had returned to his mother’s home. When Mary Ann left to re-join her own parents on their farm, Fred followed her. In 1861, Mary Ann and Captain Thunderbolt married, but Fred was soon arrested again and returned to gaol on Cockatoo Island. 

Mary Ann was having none of it. According to legend, in 1863 she planned and executed a daring rescue of Fred from Cockatoo Island. The popular tale relates how she swam to the island, gave him a metal file to remove his leg irons, and returned to shore where she waited with provisions, horses and a lantern. Once he freed himself and swam to her side she guided him to safety. 

Upon his escape Mary Ann’s parents allowed Fred to establish a new base of operations at their property, with Mary Ann providing crucial information to their gang by scouting local towns for the movement of regiments and coaching routes. 

While Captain Thunderbolt developed a reputation as a ‘gentleman’ bushranger, i.e. that he avoided violence where possible, this is often attributed to Mary Ann’s influence. Whenever they were on the run, the gang also relied on Mary Ann’s traditional bush skills to keep them fed and prevent them from being captured.

In 1865, authorities came for a heavily pregnant Mary Ann, who was detained along with her children. Upon hearing Mary Ann was being held, Thunderbolt and their gang quickly rescued her and the children. Fred soon returned to bushranging, however, leaving Mary Ann behind.  

In 1866 the police detained Mary Ann again, taking her into custody on the grounds of vagrancy. In 1867, she was apprehended once more. Newspapers of the day convey that, during one arrest, Mary Ann convinced her captors to let her go by faking labour.

During her final pregnancy with Fred, Mary Ann left him to move to work at Griffin's Inn in Carroll. After giving birth, Mary Ann reunited with John Burrows and in 1869 relocated again to Mudgee, where the last of her 15 children were born. Mary Ann and John stayed together for the remainder of their lives. 

While Mary Ann died in her home some 35 years later in April 1905, aged 71, Captain Thunderbolt was shot and killed in May 1870, a scant three years after Mary left him. 

Was Mary Ann the mastermind behind the peak of Fred’s Captain Thunderbolt bushranging success? Possibly.  

One thing is certain: Mary Ann Bugg deserves to take her rightful place in Australian history as one of our most daring, resourceful and quick-witted outlaws. 

Capture the spirit of one of Australia’s female bushrangers to win the:

Terror Australis Festival Art Awards 2019 (with prizes worth $2000)

Children’s Writing Competition 2019 (open to all children up to age 16), or

Scarlet Stiletto Awards 2019 - Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival Award for Best Bushranger Story (Open to all Australian female writers, regardless of age)


Bierens, Kali. ‘The Captain’s Lady: Mary Ann Bugg’, Honours Thesis, University of Tasmania, 2008.