Mary Ann Baker

Mary Mary Ann Baker (1834-1905), bushranger, was born near Berrico in the upper Gloucester River valley, daughter of Charlotte, an Aboriginal woman, and James Brigg, a convict shepherd assigned to the Australian Agricultural Co. In 1837 Henry Dumaresq, commissioner of the Company, on a routine tour of the property, discovered that Brigg was living with an Aboriginal woman who had saved his life fighting off an attack from 'wild Blacks', and that they had two children, Mary Ann and John. This discovery led to an extensive inquiry into the Company's control of its assigned men.

In 1848 Charlotte and James were married. In the same year Mary Ann married Edmond Baker, probably another Company shepherd. On their marriage certificate Mary Ann wrote her name but Edmond signed with a cross. The entries in the Registrar General's records appear as Bugg, though both Brigg and Bugg are found in the Company's records.

Mary Ann probably met Fred Ward, later known as Captain Thunderbolt, in the 1840s when he was employed as a stockman in the area. By 1845 he had a reputation as an expert horse handler and was driving horses to Aberbaldie and on to the Gwydir. In 1856 he was arrested for horse stealing and sentenced to imprisonment on Cockatoo Island. He is said to have escaped with help from an Aboriginal woman, who it can be assumed was Mary Ann.

During the 1860s Mary Ann accompanied Thunderbolt in his outlaw life in the bush in northern New South Wales. She had at least three children, including one born about 1865, when a woman with skills as a midwife was forcibly held by Thunderbolt to help during her confinement. This woman's account of their way of life includes a description of Mary Ann contributing to the family's food supply: dressed as a man and riding astride, she would cut out a beast from a mob of cattle (belonging to some grazier), and with a butcher's knife fastened onto a long stick would cut the tendon near the hind hoof to bring it down, and then kill it. Meat was the main food of the family, with some wild yams and wattle gum.

In 1866 Mary Ann and her children were caught by the police, and it seems that from this time at least some of her family were in the care of others. She was then described as 'a very smart woman, intelligent and can read and write'. The latter part of her life is open to doubt. She may have used the death in 1867 of another Aboriginal woman abandoned by Fred Ward as an opportunity to escape the notice of police. Thunderbolt was shot by police in 1872 near Uralla. It seems that Mary Ann returned to her father's home at Stroud and perhaps later lived at Mudgee as the wife of John Burrows, a station hand, where she raised a large family and died on 12 April 1905 aged 70 years.

Jillian Oppenheimer

Jillian Oppenheimer, 'Colonel Dumaresq, Captain Thunderbolt and Mary Ann Brigg' The Push from the Bush no 16 1983.