Relations between Aborigines
Friends or foes?
Black Woman and White Man
Rape or love?
Myall Creek Masscare
Causes and consequences of colonial violence
Not a good fence builder
Mary Anne Bugg
Justice or resistance?
Mary Anne Bugg
The Female Bushranger
In the novel, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, author Thomas Kenneally built a horror story around the struggles of a mixed heritage identity. Based upon the true story of Jimmy Governor, Kenneally weaved a narrative of two cultures that just couldn't mix. It was narrative that seemed to build a stereotype that white and black society were irreconcilable and that mixed race children would suffer mental problems. While Jimmy Governor may have had some trouble reconciling his mixed heritage, the bushranger Mary Anne Bugg certainly did not.
Mary Ann was born near Gloucester in New South Wales in 1834. Her father was a ex-Convict named James Bugg. Her mother was an Aboriginal woman named Charlotte. The blending of Aboriginal and European features made Mary an extremely beautiful lady, a beauty she would exploit later in life.
In addition to giving her beautiful features, Mary's mixed heritage allowed her to gain a diverse set of skills that helped her immensely. From her mother, Mary 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.
At the age of 14, Mary married a shepherd named Edmund Baker and the couple moved to Mudgee. The couple were employed by a Mrs. Garbutt whose son James was involved with a cattle thief named Frederick Ward. Mary and Ward probably formed an instant attraction to each other.
In 1856 Frederick Ward and James Garbutt were sentenced to Cockatoo Island prison 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 again imprisoned on Cockatoo Island. Two weeks later Mary Ann gave birth to their first child; a girl named Marina Emily. As soon as Marina was weaned, Mary placed both her child in care and moved to Balmain (near Cockatoo Island) where she found employment as a housemaid under the name Louisa Mason. She then swam to Cockatoo Island with a file for Ward to cut through his chains. After swimming to freedom, the couple moved to the Hunter Valley where Ward became the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt.
Despite having three children by March 1866, Mary Ann was a valuable asset to Ward and the gang. Her European training in the refined art of being a lady enabled her to venture into townships to purchase supplies or gather information about police, coach movements or the latest gossip without arousing suspicion. Her Aboriginal knowledge of bushcraft enabled her to find food and shelter in the mountainous terrain. This included some masculine pursuits, such as catching and butchering cattle.
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 fr 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.
Three times she was charged with receiving stolen goods. On one occasion, Fred Ward rescued her from a station where she was being held. On another occasion, she served three months of a prison sentence before an outcry in Parliament saw her released. In all likelihood, her feminine charms touched some of the gentleman of the colony.
It is not clear exactly how Mary Ann died because two death certificates have been found. One scenario is that while in jail, Ward betrayed her for another woman, Louisa Maison. Distraught at his treachery, Mary Ann gave police information to aid his capture. She then left the area to marry a man named John Burrows. A death certificate showed that Mary Anne Burrows, daughter of James Brigg & Charlotte, died on the 2nd April 1905, aged 70 years.
However 'Louisa Maison' is the name Mary Ann reportedly used while working in Balmain. Furthermore, her information to the police proved useless. For this reason, her story of Ward's betrayal might have been a mere smokescreen that helped Ward evade capture, and allowed her to leave the gang so that she could spend time with her children without fear of police persecution.
In 1867, a grieving Ward approached a Mrs. Bradford and told her a woman was dying. Ward asked that Mrs. Bradford care for her and if not, report the circumstances to the police. Mrs. Bradford subsequently found the woman, took her to the house where she died. Soon afterwards the newspapers were reporting that Louisa Mason, alias Yellow Long, had died of pneumonia. Yellilong had been Marry Anne's alias in Aboriginal communities. If Louisa Mason and Mary Ann had indeed been the same person, it seems that knowing she was dying, Mary Ann had left her children to spend her final weeks with Ward in the Australian wilderness.
A further twist is that Mary's fourth child was registered in early 1868, with Fred Ward named the father. In the Tamworth Circuit, Frederick Wordsworth Ward was registered to Frederick & Mary Ann Ward. Perhaps the birth of the fourth child may have contributed to her death or perhaps Mary hadn't died at all. Mary's ability to slip between worlds had made much of her life a mystery, and it seems her death as well.
Convicts and their legacy
Regrets and floggings
Power and morality
White Australia Policy
From Convicts to Chinese
Escaping the Convict stain
Our Ned Kelly
A story heard and considered
Dying for liberty
A rebel and a saint