Spotlight: Captain Thunderbolt and His Gang (06/05/1865)

Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter River District News (NSW : 1859 – 1866), Saturday 6 May 1865, page 3



(From the Tamworth Examiner.)

In our last issue we gave the particulars of the robbery of the Warialda mail near Manilla by this newly-fledged gang of bushrangers, and we now furnish an account of their proceedings since that time, supplied us by our correspondent at Barraba, Narrabri, and Wee Waa.

It would seem that on the night of the day that the Warialla mail was stuck-up, Thunderbolt, alias Ward, and his companions went to a paddock on the station of the Messrs. Lloyd, at Manilla, where there were a number of horses, and took two of the best. Proceeding onwards towards Barraba, we hear that two more horses were taken belonging to the Messrs. Sinclair, they at the same time leaving there the horse they had taken from the postman when they stuck-up the Warialda mail, and one they stole from Lloyds’ station. On the morning of the following day (the 20th instant), they went to Mr. Cheesborough’s station, about twelve miles from Barraba, and stuck-up the inmates. Mr. Cheesborough was from home, but one of the women gave the gang a sound rating for their daring to come there. After making some anxious inquiries about Mr. Cheesborough, they took a horse, a gun, a revolver, and some rations, and then left, going in the direction of Mr Lethbridge’s station.

From the 20th till the 24th we heard nothing of them, but on the morning of that day it appears that they got to Mr. Munro’s inn, at Boggy Creek, when they bailed up all the inmates, and took property and cash from the house amounting in all to between £70 and £80. A portion of the property stolen consisted of rations and clothing, of which they took a good supply. They did not molest anyone, although Mr. Munro bravely challenged to ‘tackle’ each of them separately. They declined his invitation, and, after enjoying themselves for a little time, and drinking a quantity of spirits, shot a valuable dog, and left in the directon of Mr. Walford’s public-house, at Millie. On the road to this place they met Mr. Baldwin, stuck him up in the usual fashion and proceeded on their road to Walford’s place. They reached the inn between twelve and one o’clock the same day. It would seem that Mr. Walford had heard of the bushrangers being in the neighbourhood, and that he might expect them very shortly, and accordingly everything valuable and portly was concealed. On reaching the inn they bailed up those who were about the place, and obtained a small amount of cash, but nothing else worth mentioning. Here they remained for about an hour, where we will leave them in order to give an account of the movements of the police.

It would appear that on the police receiving intimation of the presence of the bushrangers at Manilla, intelligence was sent to all the police stations, and constables Dalton and Linch, of the Tamworth police, were dispatched to Barraba, via Manilla. On reaching the former place, constable Norris, of Barraba, joined them, and hearing the affair at Cheesborough’s, they started at once to that place, which they reached on the morning of the 21st instant, just a day after the bushrangers had left. They then took up the tracks and went on to Mr. Lethbridge’s station, where they obtained the services of a black tracker, and continued the search. After tracking them from that time till the 24th, they reached Millie (Mr. Walford’s public-house) about an hour after the bushrangers had arrived there.

The situation of this house is on an open plain, without a tree for miles in any direction. The bushrangers, four in number, were at the house at the time, one being outside on guard, and on the latter seeing four men galloping across the plain, a whistle was given to those inside, and all four came out to see who it might be. On learning that it was the police, they all mounted their horses, one of them holding up his revolver as a challenge to the police to come on, at the same time retreating from the house to the open plain at the rear. They had all drawn their revolvers, but the police, nothing daunted, gave chase, and came within pistol range a short distance from the house. Thunderbolt fired the first shot, to which the police replied — at the same time endeavours were made to cut off the young lad from the rest of the gang, who semed not so well mounted as the others. Firing was continued on both sides with great vigour, when a well-directed ball from the revolver of constable Dalton took effect on the young lad, entered the back and came out near the stomach. He fell from his horse, and constable Dalton shouted to constable Norris to take charge of him whilst he went after the others. On leaving with that intention, he fortunately turned round, and saw the young vagabond, while on the ground, presenting his revolver at him. He threw himself on his horses neck, and the ball passed over him. Constable Norris came up at the moment, and again fired at the ruffian, the ball taking effect, having entered the jaw and escaped at the neck. During the whole time, constable Lynch was keeping the others at bay, and succeeded in doing so, notwithstanding that Ward, who was mounted on a fine chesnut horse, several times rode between the youth and the police, constantly discharging his revolver at the same time, in order to give his mate time to escape. He was, however, unsuccessful. About forty shots were fired by the police, and their ammunition was all expended. After securing the youth, they proceeded a short distance after the others, but their horses were completely knocked up, having ridden them fully five hundred miles.

The fight is described by eye witnesses as an exceedingly plucky affair, and highly creditable to the police engaged. We hope their conduct will not be overlooked by those in authority. The encounter lasted about an hour, and the balls from the several revolvers flew about in all directions, one passing through the whiskers of one of the police, but not injuring him.

The youth who was shot was at once taken to the inn, and a doctor sent for to Moree, but he is in a very weak state, and it is doubtful if he will recover.

We hear that several volunteers, in conjunction with the Wee Waa police, have started after the other three bushrangers.

The head of the gang, who goes under the soubriquet of ‘Thunderbolt,’ is named Ward, and has been engaged in numerous robberies. He was at one time employed in breaking in horses at the Tareela station. The second is supposed to be a man named McIntosh, and is said to be a brother of McIntosh, who was mixed up with Picton in a cattle-stealing case some years ago. The bushranger who is shot is named John Thompson, a youth of about sixteen years of age, and is described as a very dangerous vagabond. He was at one time in the service of Mr. Cousins, of Terriaro, near Narrabri, and was subsequently employed on the Terrehihi station by Mr. Bowman’s superintendent. Before leaving there, about three months ago, he threatened to shoot the superintendent (Mr. Sullivan), and left the station, taking a horse. He had frequently expressed a wish to join the bushrangers. The fourth man was known by the name of ‘Bull’ or ‘Bully.’ Thompson and Ward are well acquainted with the part of the country in which they have been recently committing their depredations, and the latter with his companions will doubtless make for his old haunts at the head of some of the creeks running into the Barwon, near Walget.

At a late hour last night, we learned that the wounded lad, Thomson, was left at Millie, in charge of constables Norris and Lynch, and that constable Dalton had, with four others, supposed to be volunteers, started from Millie in pursuit of the other three men.

Since Mr. Cropper’s place was stuck up, Hall’s gang had been hovering about the stations between Forbes and Condobolin. From Mulgutherie they took a racer, known as Goldfinder, formerly belonging to the late Sir Frederick Pottinger. They afterwards called at Borambil, Mr. Suttor’s station, where they left a horse which they had taken from there.

Croy’s public house, on Old Pipeclay, Mudgee, was stuck up by a number of diggers. About £30 cash was taken, and a quantity of stock drank and destroyed. The Police Magistrate, Mr. W. R. Blackman, and Mr. T. Cudoll, J. P . accompanied by Alderman Hugson, and Messrs. G. Flood, A. Hill, and Delany, who were sworn as constables with the regular police force, proceeded to the spot and arrested three of the ringleaders. Messrs. Charlton, Broaderick, Winter, Farrar, Christian, and others were soon on the spot to render assistance as volunteers, a good proof that in case of our being visited by bushrangers we are in a position to show them a bold front.

The Ovens Constitution adds the following bit of information to the biography of Morgan:— ‘It is stated that Morgan’s father is an old man, now selling cakes with a barrow near the Hay market, in Sydney; and that his mother was a gipsy woman at Campbelltown.’


Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Thursday 12 December 1867, page 2





After going some seven or eight miles in the scrub at the base of the mountain and being scratched and torn to pieces we resolved to get out again, as it was near night and not a blade of grass to be seen to feed the horses. We came out and ran round some eight or nine miles further where we camped at about 8 o’clock near some good grass and water. Next day we tried another place, and came out on the marked tree line with plenty of grass all through, and a shade too much water, for at night we had to place stones and sticks to sleep on — a bed I can recommend for making people weak. We kept on scouring till we came to a shod track. This we followed hopefully till it led towards a station where the ground was covered with all sorts and sizes of horse-shoe tracks. Ac cording to our information from the S. C. at Narrabri there must be a great many bushrangers out in this direction. At last we selected one track, and followed it many miles, hoping it would lead to the particular haunt of Ward (Thunderbolt). His track did not go to the stations but shied off as if out of sight. I felt persuaded this track was that of Mr. Ward coming down from Gallathera Plains to see his wife, who was stopping at a sheep station with a half-caste shepherdess. But I did not then exactly know the spot, although I had traced her out in that direction. We lost the track at last on a short grassy flat — the worst possible place for tracking.

Having run out of rations we made across to Barraba to see our other two Braidwood police, and to see if we could not form a plan to work in conjunction with each other. We arrived at Barraba half starved.

There was a police station there but no feed for horses. We stopped there two days to spell the horses. We formed a plan; the tracker was to go with one trooper, and the other was going with me. We were to meet again in three days at one of Mr. Lloyd’s sheep stations— some forty miles off.


The second day we came to a sheep station hut, and out came a great big half-caste gin, as surly as you please, who told us plump we were after Thunderbolt, but were fortunately off the scent. She poked all sorts of fun at us which we took in good humour, and went away in a different direction to our meeting place. But we had not got a mile away before we heard a row behind us. It was a clear ground, and on looking back, lo and behold there were two big gins coming racing mad after us on stock horses, standing up in the stirrups, their petticoats flapping in the wind. They both sat astride over the saddle.

They pulled us up. The big one came close and said she would introduce us to her cousin Mary, who had just come home, having been away to see her father, and now she wanted a husband. This cousin Mary did not come nearer than two hundred yards, so we were unable, having no opera glass, to look at her charms. We saw she kept eyeing us, with her horse reined up on the spur ready for a charge. This was done to see if we knew her.


I became suspicious and surmised we were near the presence of Mrs. Captain Thunderbolt. As soon as she reined up we became suspicious, the more so when she eyed us over with such curiosity; but we said nothing as we wished to make her believe we were gulled. So I told the big gin that I wanted a wife, and would be glad of an introduction. After a good deal of persuasion the lady came up when my mate introduced me to her as Mr. MacGatterie, and I introduced my mate as Mr. Squatter Dixon. I saw the lady eyeing me very closely all the time they stopped with us. I saw she had a suspicion that I knew her, and we had a job to get away from them. They would insist on our going back with them and have breakfast, but urgent business called us away. They watched us for miles, and it was not till we got in a thick scrub that we turned towards our place of meeting. We knew the direction and came to it all right. Our mates were not there, so we left word we would be at a certain place next night. We got some rations and went back to watch the gins; but we discovered they had watched us all the time. They came on us two miles from the hut. They told us where we camped, and where we got our dinner, and that we had come back to watch them. We saw we were check-mated, but did not let on. We had only then to consider how we could profit by our discovery, so we determined to stop in the hut that night, and pump them all we could. I found out it was the Captain’s lady, and a little more to, so we went to meet our mates but they did not come. To give the gins the slip we went across the mountains to Narrabri, seventy miles, and came out splendidly on a good road and in the midst of plenty of grass. I came across a friend of mine so we gave the horses a day’s spree. This friend put me up to a trick or two, and kindly offered to go out and show me one of Ward’s camping places. But I could not get a horse for my friend. He told me there were two of his horses at Ward’s camp, but I could not get a horse for him to go with us after them, and it was necessary that he should show us the road. So I got a direction, went out, but could not find the place. As I had to appear at the assizes in Sydney with reference to some of the Braidwood cases I told my friend and a few of his acquaintances to keep an eye on matters, and that I would be back before long. We had a scour through the mountains and became so familiar with them that we arrived at Barraba by a new route. In fact we could go through the mountains anywhere. We found our two mates at Barraba, where they had been delayed by the fancy colt — the quiet horse — which had thrown his rider unawares. One of the chaps want into Tamworth to see about getting some feed for our horses and a fresh horse for himself, but it was no go.

As I had to leave for Sydney soon I took the rest of the men, meaning to try once more and work my way into Tamworth. We came back to the gins’ hut and there I met a friend who told me Thunderbolt had gone down to Murrurundi, to stick the mail up; and the gin had gone to a certain place to meet him coming back. So I told the other chaps he had gone down but they would not believe me. I, therefore, started at once for Tamworth, taking the tracker with me — determined to get a fresh horse and to push on, as it was on my road to Sydney. Before I got in I met two police coming along the road who told me the mail was stuck up. This made me push on to the office where I asked for another horse —but there was none, of course — and they told me positively it was not Ward who had stuck up the mail but two boys. Putting two and two together I knew this to be false and told them so; but they were sure of it. I know, as far as circumstantial evidence can go, that it was Ward and not two boys — two boys, how absurd!c who stuck up that mail, for I was told on my way down all about it. And I also found out that if I could get back soon, I should be able to capture him. I had learnt a great deal about him, more than the stationary police could dream of. So certain was I that, although my resignation was in and the notice expired, I decided upon withdrawing it if I could go back to the north as soon as the Braidwood cases had been disposed of in Sydney. I applied, bona fide, to the Inspector-General of Police. My application was refused. If the Inspector-General was made aware of my application, he may have sent for me and asked my reason for wishing specially to withdraw my resignation to go to the North. I would have told him; but my mind is satisfied that the Inspector-General knew little of it except as a matter of form, and, as a matter of form, if at all, so placed before him. I intend in these papers to make no remarks as to the machinery of the head office. This is not the place. Let the centralised system be fairly tested and judged upon its merits. The time may come, and that soon, when it may be regretted that there were not established in conjunction with it, supplementary bodies in every district of the colony, of volunteer native troopers.


Now, the people up there are disgusted with the police, as they go from one station to another, without adopting any rational system to try and catch Thunderbolt. Here is Thunderbolt, a native of Windsor, I believe — I saw his mother in November — who has been out about four years, and sticks up the mail whenever he is hard up. He never, that I know, sticks up people in the bush. Why is he not captured? Have the people in the north not good reason to complain? Does it not seem as if the police were merely putting in their time? The country wonders, but I don’t wonder why he is not taken. I was six or seven weeks in the ranges, from one end to the other, and during that period never met or saw a policeman.


On one occasion I chased a wild bull and fired at him repeatedly to train our horses to it. We chased this bull for two miles, constantly firing, until we killed him. It occurred to me that this was about the best practice men should be drilled to who are sent after the bushrangers; for it teaches them to ride, to fire while galloping, and to exercise caution. For a wild bull, with a couple of bullets in a fleshy part will test a rider on the side of a mountain to keep beside him. One drill of that sort would be of more service to a man than twelve months drill in Sydney, and for the horse to. Well, if two or three of us could travel about, firing our arms off occasionally, and camping about without attracting the notice of the police, how long could a man whose object was occasional plunder, remain in those ranges without being taken? As things are now Thunderbolt can remain there five years longer, perfectly secure, with police stations all round him, and he may become the father of a numerous family. I know the men who were with me will try hard to take him, but what can they do? Their horses were done up when I left, and they were ordered to remain at home till they got fresh again. They wanted ammunition, but could not get it. They had only six rounds when I left, the most of this being damaged by camping out in the wet. The Gunnedah police were put on Ward in his camp, when I left, and my old tracker who was up there was left behind for some reason or other — it would be hard to tell. So they sneaked on the camp and blazed away at Ward and his mate, but they both got away on foot. The boy took one road and Ward the other — so ended the encounter.


Well, my old mates, being out scouring, saw a man in the bush and called upon him, but he sloped, it being very scrubby. They only got one run down and one shot, when they lost him. Ward made down to the gins’ hut, or close to it, and the lady was talking to him, both on horseback, when up rode two of the Tamworth police and fired at him from a distance, it being open forest land. They had a splendid chance, but he again got away. As soon as my old mates missed him they met a friend, and were told that the boy, Mason, was making for a certain place. Their horses being used up they could not follow but sent a note to one of the police at Narrabri. This policeman went to the house, and the boy surrendered. Now if all the police helped one another like that how much better it would be; but they were natives, and good men, working together, but humbugged for want of proper officers over them — at least some officer who could tell a saddle horse from a draught horse before he paid £15 or £20 for him.


But some of the superintendents in buying horses, purchase mere scrubbers from a rich man to secure his favour. They give him a good price but the animal is a mere scrubber, unfit for the work. If a poor man came with a good stock horse fit for any bush work, they turn up their nose and don’t want him. Then word is sent to Sydney that they cannot get horses. In this way the men have to ride animals little better than donkeys, dearly purchased, and when they want to do anything, they cannot.


Well, I was on X.’s case in Sydney. The first thing I did on arriving was, as previously stated, to write out an application to withdraw my resignation, stating, that I had good hopes of being able to catch Thunderbolt and would like to start back as soon as the Braidwood cases were over. X’s case and —’s were one, and should have been tried together, but sergeant V. had the case against Mick Connell, and to get him into it he wanted — to give certain evidence under a promise that my charge against her should not be prosecuted. There was a charge also, of stolen rings against this lady. Well, she did swear a few words but not before Mr. Butler, who prosecuted for the Crown, left the Court to indict her for perjury. X’s case then came on, and the charge against him was for aiding and abetting Tom Connell to escape — that is what we charged him with, and all the evidence we had against him. After long trial the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the second count — “aiding and abetting, &c.” That verdict, to my notion, was a true one, and according to the evidence, and the true case against him. But his Honor, as I understood, said they must find him guilty or innocent of the full charge, “accessory to the fact after robbery &c;” that   there was no second count. The jury seemed staggered for a minute or two when they returned a verdict of not guilty. Then his Honor seemed astonished, but acquitted him. He was then charged with sticking up Chinamen on two occasions, but there being only one Chinese prosecutor there the case fell to the ground.

The cases being over the lady was not tried, to the great glory of sergeant V., so I reported myself at the Police-office, and was told my application had not been sent in, but would be in the morning. Next morning I was told as my resignation was due there was nothing to prevent my being discharged — so I was discharged. Of course I thought it strange I should not have been allowed to go and try to take Thunderbolt when I had such a chance. However, I was half crippled then in my left wrist and they deemed it expedient to get rid of me. Such is the way of the world. Now, I had done as much active service for two years as any trooper in the force, and here was my reward. If crippled they might have aided me a little. If I had been a new arrival I might have got a brief pension. But I don’t want it. This country is my home, and in it I am able and can earn an honest living by the sweat of my brow. May every trooper who leaves the service be able to do the same is the wish of their old companion.



Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Monday 9 December 1867, page 2




As Bruce’s case did not come on for trial at the May assizes, being remanded till August, I was sent back to Braidwood, where I had no sooner arrived than I was transferred back to Sydney, to stay at the depot till my three months’ notice to leave the force had expired.


Before giving a brief account of my journey northwards after Thunderbolt I should like to say a little more about the depot at Sydney. The principal part of a trooper’s duty there is to put his time in, and make as much show to the public as possible. At almost every turn you take you meet a sergeant and they all have some order. You are taught to ride perhaps by some man that could not ride a chase for fifty yards in the bush without risk to life or limb. He is paid to teach bushmen to ride, if any happen to be there, which is but seldom, for they generally become disgusted and leave. You are stuck on a military saddle with long stirrups, and your toes nearly touch the ground. You have no power over your horse. If he gives two or three bucks you go over his head. You ride round and round, jotting away. The saddle is by no means fit for country service. The flaps are very prominent, with a small knee pad more for ornament than use, and the trooper is expected to sit in it like a forked stick over a fence. The knee pad is useless. You can only just touch the knee pad if your horse bucks. Your only chance when he begins to buck is to stick your feet well over the animal’s neck and then you might be able to get your knee to the pads. So allowing the first buck to bring your knees to the pads you are then out of the seat of the saddle. The next buck will bring you on the horse’s neck, or on the pummel of the saddle, and consequently the next buck brings you on his head.

These are the sort of saddles bought for the police to use after desperate bush riders.

Pick out one of the best bush riders and place him in one of these saddles, and send him to catch a mounted robber in some mountainous country, or other rough place; if he were on a good horse and succeeded in sticking on till he got from the top of a tier to the bottom he would have done no good but would have run a risk of crippling himself for life. Now, troopers are employed chiefly to arrest country robbers and bushrangers; at least this has been their work for a long time past. And what has been the sort of men they have been sent after but desperate and clever horsemen. Do these men use straight-flapped saddles without pads to ride in ? No. They use the stock-man’s saddle with a short flap and good knee pad, and, generally, the natives of the country are admitted to be excellent riders, in hundreds of instances as good as any in the world. Why then should these men, when taken in to capture bushrangers, be sent to the depot where it is merely pretended to teach them to ride. What good does this do? Why should one hundred men at one time or other be kept at the depot?

It’s a nice life to see the new hands tumbling in in all directions, but who pays? These new hands do not like a native who happens to join the force for the good of his country because he cannot help laughing at their awkwardness. But why should a country pay thousands of pounds on this tomfoolery when the men are totally unfit for the bush services required of them? And why should so much be expended on saddles and other things which are only fit for cavalry on a level country? What good, so far, has all this expensive cavalry drill done for the country? Has it tended to facilitate the capture of bushrangers, or the suppression of crime? I say the reverse is the fact, from the impunity with which bushrobbers can keep so long uncaptured. The employing of hundreds of men who knew nothing of the bush or country, and sergeants who know as little to drill them, is a very useless expense. It is not all prejudice with me, when I ask why are not respectable natives taken on as bush troopers? No expense is required to teach them to ride. One dozen natives in the police at Braidwood would have prevented the bushranging gang from carrying all before them for more than a week or two. I declare solemnly if I had been supplied with one good bushman as mate when I first went to Braidwood, and been allowed my own way, from my knowledge of bush manners, the country, and the people, I could have taken Tommy Clarke and Tom Connell twenty times over, before they had committed any crimes of note. This is no vain boasting.


The fact is the natives are not required in the force. They are considered as only fit to make bushrangers, and many a promising young man has been driven to the bush by police persecutions. Do you suppose that all the young people who have taken to the bush have done so for the sake of robbing and plundering? They are usually disliked by the police and are taken on suspicion for some supposed case, acquitted, and retaken, and they are pointed at until they take the bush in disgust under the mistaken notion of recovering their self-respect. Not many are driven to this, but it is well known that two or three of the most formidable bushrangers took the bush from their self-respect being wounded by some police interference. But it is also a well known fact that many bush natives live by nothing else but rowdyism, and by horse and cattle stealing. There are black sheep in every flock, and I do not exempt my native countrymen, more especially those in the back parts of the country, where they run almost wild. But take what I call the civilised and christianised natives, and they will be found among the most loyal in the colony and the most patriotic. I could muster one hundred natives in a week that would fight to the death in a good cause, and these men would be glad to join the police from which they I are improperly excluded. But enough on this head.


You may like to know a little about the trooper’s boots. Every year there is a new issue to each man. He gets one or two pairs of pants and two pairs of boots — one pair they call Wellingtons, made of bad harness leather blackened over, with a toe nearly three inches wide and so stiff that it is next to impossible to walk in them; the other pair are Napoleons, or riding boots, often made of the belly parts of the hides. One year he may get a good issue but he will get four bad ones after it. I have been told that thirty shillings a pair are paid for these boots, but I am not sure that such is the case. If so it is much too high a charge, and it is a great oversight in the authorities to countenance such proceedings.


In briefly explaining these matters I have run away from my northern trip.

When I arrived in Sydney on transfer, I applied to go after Thunderbolt. My application was accepted, and I was forthwith despatched, on the promise that I should have permission to follow out my own system. I was to have two mates — one a tracker, and a first-rate man, a half-caste, and a very clever fellow in many respects. He was with our party at Ballalaba. The other chap was a young man belonging to the Braidwood district who joined the force just before the Clarkes were arrested, and as good a rider and as steady a man as could be found — just the man for the situation. These two started to Tamworth before I did, but as they missed the coach I pulled them up on the road, so we all arrived in Tamworth together, Tamworth being the head-quarters of the district.

We were to be supplied with horses, and whatever we required for the bush; but when we got there, there was no horses for us except two, and they were young things. One had only been purchased about a week previously, and had not been ridden by the police. As the sequel will show there was a good reason for this. After I had been there a few days this horse was told off to me, and the other one to the tracker. As I had brought up a new saddle with me, expecting to have a good horse, I had to get it stuffed before using it; one evening I put my saddle on him to see what he was made of. I was going out with another man to the police paddock, to bring in the horses to be fed for the night and take some out. As I took my horse out of the stable it was plain to me that he was all there for a trick or two; and I felt convinced that if he commenced to buck he would throw me out of the saddle I had. I made this remark to the men who were there, but they assured me a child could ride him, so I mounted. I was convinced then he would buck, from my experience in riding all sorts of horses since I was a child. I told the sergeant it would be better for me to ride him in another saddle, as I could get no seat in my own, being stuffed it would not sit on the horse’s back, and was a very bad saddle in every way for this horse. The sergeant and the men laughed, and said if I could not ride that horse I could ride none in the place, as the animal never gave a buck in his life. So away I went very well till the horses we were driving went off the road, and I started to turn them back. Away I went like the renowned John Gilpin anywhere the horse took me — he had no more mouth than a colt just yarded. I stopped him at last, and got on very well till on the road home again, when he bailed me up between a fence and a mud hole. Here he commenced pig-jumping, round and round, and the saddle turned half off, and I came off, but in a soft place, being about knee deep in mud. So I mounted again, and as I got into the saddle the trooper with me gave him a clip or two with his whip. Off I went again down the street, full gallop, with the horse’s head right up in the air. I tried to pull him in but it was no use. I was standing in the stirrups sawing away at his mouth when he propped short, and at it he went, but the first buck shifted me. I could not sit in the saddle. I kept on for four or five good bucks, more by maintaining a centre of gravity than anything else, till one of the stirrup leathers slipped off. I came over his head, and in falling out cut my left hand, and thus coming on the ground with all my weight on one hand on a hard metalled road my wrist was broken, my fingers touching my arm. This arm was helpless, I felt little pain, and only discovered it to be useless when attempting to rise by it. I got a saddler to twist it the right way, but he was not skilled. He straightened it, however, and ten minutes afterwards I saw a doctor, but my arm was so much swollen that he could only then put splints on and chance it being set right. I do not think it was properly set as I feel occasional gritting still.


After I was laid up the men let it out about the horse being a buckjumper, and that they all knew it — even the sergeant who told me it was a quiet horse; because the sergeant summoned the last owner of the animal and had him fined £2 in the court-house for allowing the horse to buck up and down the street and run over some children.

Now this was cowardly, and treacherous — to play a stranger such a trick, just because I had come over there to try and take Thunderbolt. If I had been in a good saddle the horse might have bucked away, but they played to get me what is termed a “burster,” and they succeeded in what they might look upon as a justifiable deception. One would have thought they would rather have helped a stranger among them to do his duty. But Thunderbolt is still at large.

Peter, the tracker, had another “quiet” horse, but having a good saddle he put the “top rail” on, and was thrown head fore-most. We were then in a nice fix, my mate with his head bound up and I with a broken hand and wrist; but during this time two more men came over, and one of them got my buckjumper. He put a blanket and a cloak on his saddle, another military one, determined not to be thrown, but he was thrown before the week was out.


These two men went out to Barraba, and I and the tracker were to go to Narrabri. They would not allow the third man to come with me. I tried to get a pack horse to carry our rations so as not to show ourselves to the station people, as a great many of the stockkeepers would screen Ward (Thunderbolt) from us; but it was no go, we were not to have much chance of apprehending this bushranger. I only brought one revolver from Sydney, being told I should be supplied at Tamworth with all I required; so I had to put up with one revolver and a small Tranter’s revolving rifle. Being unable even to get ammunition I had to send for some to Mr. Ryland at the Sydney Depot. As soon as I could move my arm I started, first to Narrabri, and on my way I fell in with a squatter on the Mucki who assisted me a great deal. He rowed us over the river, there being no bridges, and the rivers and creeks being flooded, besides the roads being very muddy.

When we came to Cox’s Creek we had to swim our horses over and go over ourselves in a canoe, very pleasant travelling for a man with a broken arm.


We arrived at Narrabri at last where we gave the horses two days’ spell as the roads would soon knock them up. At Tamworth I was told I could get a pack horse at Narrabri, but I could get nothing, I had received some very good information to work on, but to work it properly we should have a pack horse to carry rations; for to be seen on the stations in the Killarney mountains would be to draw all the friends of Thunderbolt to watch us, a thing which I wished to avoid. My intentions were to scour all the ranges, running across from Narrabri to Bingera, north and south; and from Barraba on the east to the west end of Killarney mountains, a distance of seventy miles either way, a very rocky and scrubby country, and Thunderbolt’s haunt when on that side of the country, which was very often.

This is the locality where Thunderbolt lies to after sticking up the mail, as has been proved, but why it is not scoured and the offender hunted out of it, or captured, is very hard to say.


From the Narrabri side of the mountain there is only one place to get in the ranges, so I asked the senior-constable at Narrabri which was the least scrubby part to enter, as I meant going my own road quietly. The direction he gave me — pointing to a spur of the mountain — was the very worst part of the whole ranges. I might have expected this after the way I had been served; so with a small railway wrapper, a small damper, and a piece of beef we started, though the ground was covered with water. We could carry no blankets, partly because we could not get them. I managed to get the tracker one quietly and got into a row for it. The horses would have all they could do for they were without corn except such as was as black as your hat — half rotten. The corn had got wet, as the person in charge was too much occupied in curling his moustache, and cleaning his brush to attend to it. But though the corn on the station was spoilt, the Government is rich and cannot be bothered with these trifles.

Before starting from Narrabri, I asked if the storekeepers rode shod horses or not. He said no, and that if I saw a shod track I was to be sure it was a bushranger’s, as no one ever used shod horses out there. I asked him in which direction Barraba lay. I had a pretty good idea, having passed that place myself some years previously when going to Queensland with horses. This was seventy miles below Narrabri; but the direction the officer in charge gave me would have brought me out twenty or thirty miles wide of that place. He was either trying to run me astray or else he knew no better himself, although stationed there for some time; but it was excusable seeing he had not been very long in the country and could not be expected to know much of bush matters.



Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Thursday 28 November 1867, page 6




I was very glad the capture of the Clarkes was all over. Here were two men who could not be arrested for months, although the district was fairly swarming with police and detectives, one party running away from the other, and both sometimes running away from the bushrangers. If it had not been for myself and another in running the young chaps in Jingera to inform on them, I believe there would have been a worse gang out this day than any that we have yet seen, and that more blood would have been shed than could be dreamt of. It seemed to me as if the police authorities wanted them out, to keep up excitement. Clarke at first did not care for shooting the police, but one crime brings on another, and he had got to that pitch that he would have shot any one who came in his road. I am confident he would have had some more mates, and it would have taken years to put them down, unless the “system” had been departed from by the formation of special bush parties. Bushrangers must be fought according to their own tactics, and a bush party must expect to undergo many privations and many hardships before they can expect to succeed. If the police had continued to work the same system as before Carroll’s party, Wright’s, and other scouting parties were formed, the Clarkes would never have been taken. I consider that system bad, so far as the suppression of bushranging is concerned. I consider it a robbery to the country as the force stands now, and worse than if fifty bushrangers were out, because they rob for a living and only rob a few individuals in one locality, whereas the police system robs the state wholesale. It takes one half of the revenue to keep up a body of men that are quite out of their place. The force is established on the same footing as the Irish constabulary. The chief part of the force consists of men from the Irish or London constabulary. Most of them taken on are men just landed in the colony, mainly from the Irish police, never having touched a horse perhaps, let alone know how to manage one; and they have no idea of the bush, nor the ways of the people in this country. But they are taken on and sent to the police depot, Sydney, where they are kept three or four months at great expense to the country in teaching them to ride. I only speak about the mounted men, and personally I say nothing against any of them, horse or foot; I know many of them to be excellent men, as men in any way you take them, but they are placed in false positions when sent after bushrangers in a bush country of which they have no knowledge. As strangers, and acquainted with police duty, they do very well in towns and villages; in fact they are better for this kind of duty than the natives of the colony by far. But when it comes to country work, catching bushrangers in the mountains, it is a different thing. There may be found an exception now and then.

Well, to return to the drill. They are learnt to ride in a sort of a way, in about three months, under pay all the while; and they are learnt the use of the sword, quite a useless article, after the fashion of dragoons. The sword is quite useless at the present time for any practical police work. It serves merely to occupy the time of the men in cleaning and keeping them from idleness. Then they are learnt the rifle drill the only useful part in it, but though they are showed how to use it they are never practised in firing enough to hit the target at 200 yards. In fact there is very few of them that ever fired a shot till they were sent up in the bush to shoot robbers, and then when they come on him they blaze away anyhow, sometimes to the sky, thinking the noise will frighten if not kill. This has been well stated in those words of poetry on the late Sir Frederick Pottinger and his eight men when firing at Frank Gardiner in close quarters. This is such a bit of truthful verse, that I will repeat it.

“His warriors then, like valiant men,

With carbines blazed away,

While the whistling lead on its mission sped

But whither none could say.

For the snow white steed at gentle speed

Bore Gardiner from their view;

While Sir Frederick Pot, and all his lot,

Tried to pierce the robber through!”

Now, I don’t suppose those men ever fired a shot before, and so it is now with most of the men. They may be better now some of them by this time, but two, three, or four year ago, they were awful. Well, the first four months they are paid for nothing. But it is not only these men who have just joined. There’s the senior-sergeant with his large cheque to drill them, and he has some one to attend and wait upon him, as he attends on those above him and so on, to say nothing about the expenses for horse-flesh, fodder, saddles, shoeing, &c., to keep it up. It surprises me that the depot has not been looked to, for there are police employed as grooms to senior-sergeants. I was brought up in the bush and can ride almost any horse that could be found, but when I joined I was kept six weeks in Sydney learning to ride on a military saddle and use a rifle, but I never fired a shot out of it till I was sent to Jingera after Clarke when he broke out of gaol; but I knew how to use it, having served some time after Ben Hall’s gang as a special constable at Goulburn. It was after this they sent me to Sydney to be taken on the force. I had no idea they were going to teach me to ride but they did, and kept me there bumping about with long stirrups and fooleries till I could hardly ride at all. My theory for bush work is this :— There is not a district in any part of the colony but there are scores of young men, the sons of respectable storekeepers, graziers, and other settlers. They are men of intelligence, natives of the colony, whose time is occupied in stock riding, or other pursuits, but who are merely so occupied for want of something else to do. As an illustration, suppose one of those men was appointed the chief trooper in the district where he had been bred and born, with power to select his own half-dozen men. Can anyone suppose that a bushranger would exist in that district for a month?

Now I was drilled and equipped in the regular way and was sent out to catch Clarke. I never had any one with me at first, though I bailed him up behind a tree on one occasion, but I had to give him up on account of my revolver at first missing. I had a tracker with me but he would not come near after the first shot. He left me to the mercy of the two of them; but though I did not take them I took all sorts of care they did not take me. When my revolvers missed I was close to Clarke, and the moment my last cap missed fire he rushed at me like a tiger and called on me to surrender. I could do nothing. I dared not attempt to take him as he had a revolver in each hand and I saw the caps on the nipples plain enough. When he found I would not stand for him he made a rush to get his horse, but I knew he would have me then, so I galloped between him and ran the horses away, and while my eye was off him for a minute he disappeared — whither I could not tell; but I will own the truth — I got very frightened then, as I expected to be knocked off from behind every tree. I had only one fresh cap on, so I pushed home with his horses. If I had had a mate with me that day there would have been an end of the Clarkes. I could always find them if allowed my own way, but my superiors would have their way, and it was only once in the first twelve months we came on them in the official way, and then we made a mess of it.

So you can see from the beginning of this tale, after I had estimated the capacities of my immediate superiors, I tried hard to deviate from the system and have my own way with one mate; but they would never let me. Sometimes I got out with the tracker but at first he was useless when it came to close quarters.

Well, it kept getting worse and worse up there. More men kept coming out and getting in one another’s way. Some smart fine-looking men, new arrivals in the colony came up in charge of a party, but they knew not what to do, where to go, or how to act. It was all chance work. Some-times they would run up against the boys, but they could always get away. One, now and then, would be taken, more by chance than anything else. There was no generalship except what was bad. Now, if two men were together who knew how to work, and were to go out their own way, two on one side of Jingera, and two on the other, taking it quiet, they would all have been taken at the commencement ; but no, that would not do. Many and many a time I could have played the boys into my hands, and with only one mate could have taken the lot of them, but that did not suit some. The fact is, I showed my cards before I was ready to play them, and so spoilt a chance for myself, for I never dreamt but it was intended to catch the bushrangers with as little delay as possible.

But I have run away from the point of expense I was bearing on. Well, too many men is one fault in the police, not only for expense, but they baffle one another when in the bush. If some smart young natives were taken in the force and found with good horses — men who could ride well — good bushmen, and men who could be depended on, as there are hundreds in every district who can be — then bushranging would cease. There is a fine lot of natives who are brought up respectably, and would go through fire and water to achieve anything they took in hand; for it must show itself to the reason of every man that a native — I don’t mean aboriginals — or a man who has been some time in the country, and had some experience in bush matters, will know how to go to work better than men just arrived in the country. The knowing of roads, the nature of the country, the haunts, and the people is very necessary. A clever bushman never wants you to show him the road. If he wants to make to a particular house suspected, he goes to it at once according to his own bush tactics. If a stranger he would beat about the bush, or he would call at some public-house or station and learn in the course of conversation that so-and-so’s hut is over at the Black Range, or some other place, on a certain creek or river. He will then ride away in some other direction and slew round and come out at this suspected place before any one knows anything about it and wait the time to strike a blow, and then strike the nail fair on the head. Then its done without any fuss or trouble. On the other hand put some of them policemen from Sydney on this duty and it takes them some time to find out who is the likeliest to harbour robbers or the person wanted. A bushman would tell in one night in a country house which way the wind blew. But your Sydney man newly arrived from Dublin or London must enquire the road, and if he finds it out he goes about his work in such a way that the people soon discover something’s up, and their bushranging friends soon hear that the police are coming, long before the police have found out which way to go. Then some of the friends keep an eye on the police to see when they start. All at once the imported policemen gets some one to show them the road — but while they are on the road to the house we will go inside and see what is doing. There is Tom Clarke — on supposition — courting the daughter and cutting a dash. The boy of the house, or some one, is up on the nearest ridge looking out. The signal is passed and some one runs inside saying, “Tommy, here’s the traps!” “All right,” says Tommy. “You watch them away, I’ll be at the little camp waiting for you.” So, just before the “traps” come in sight Tom comes out and mounts his nag and rides away. Up comes the imported police — a fine body of smart-made men — they are now full of importance, armed to the teeth, they search the house, turn it upside down — no one there — they grind their teeth, and then get some dinner and return to their station, watched all the while. And perhaps a startling telegraph is sent to Sydney full of nonsense. The “traps” then swear vengeance on Peter or Jack for running them on the wrong scent, by false information. By-and-bye Tommy hears, all from the “traps” swearing vengeance on the person by name — that Peter sent the traps out. Peter has to fly for his life, or Tommy will give him a touch up, and Tommy has friends who will give him a touch up too. Peter, or Jack, or Sam, after being thus suspected and, in danger say I’d like to crack a wood on Tommy and get him “nabbed” but them — new-chum traps let out everything you say. It gets to Braidwood and then over the country. I’ll never tell them anything again.”

But the bushman, if let alone, goes quietly out of the house, and soon sees the little game if any is going on, and comes down on them “on the quiet,” and so ends the affair; while on the other hand the play only begins, and begins with Tommy having a full knowledge of the sort of men pursuing him, and becomes gradually familiar with the stupid way in which they are commanded. A man must be stupid who persists in any line of tactics which invariably fail. Fifty men only, of the right sort, would stop all bushranging in this country, and save the expense of the hundreds of men in the force, and horses, who are now doing nothing. Some of them are right enough for large towns and for serving summonses, and general duty, on certain beats.

There is Thunderbolt in the northern districts, and he will reign until special scouring parties are formed, or until some good luck befalls the regular police. I have applied to go after him but was refused, because my system was not approved of; but the pursuit of Thunderbolt, as I have been after him once, may be the subject of future papers.

In the foregoing papers many things have been imperfectly sketched, and some mistakes have crept in, which I could have corrected if I had been able to remain in Sydney and revise; but my general object will be attained if what is written be the means of drawing the attention of those now in power to the present system of police which appears to my mind very unsuited for the bush work of Australia.

As this concludes nearly all I intended to say respecting the Southern district, the next letter or two will have reference to a little duty after Thunderbolt in the Northern districts.


Spotlight: Britton and Thunderbolt at Gostwyck (07/11/1863)

Sydney Mail (NSW : 1860 – 1871), Saturday 7 November 1863, page 2

Telegraphic news.

(From the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Telegrams)

BENDEMEER. Saturday, 6 p.m.

It has been ascertained that the two men who stuck up a hut at Gostwick are the identical two who escaped from Cockatoo Island some time ago. It appears that after their affray with the police they managed to elude all further pursuit by secreting themselves in a hut belonging to one of Mr. Stitt’s shepherds while he was absent, who upon his return found one of them quietly feasting upon his supper. These robbers have now separated from each other. One is about 5 feet 11 inches in height, and the other About 5 feet 7 inches. The shots of the police took effect on the shorter man, wounding him in the leg; he was last seen about twelve miles from Bendemeer, on Thursday. One of the townspeople who was out after cattle met him, and he related the manner of his escape from Cockatoo. He carried a double-barrel gun, one barrel only being loaded, he having no more powder.

Bushranging Gazette #21

Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Flooding in bushranger country

Heavy rains in October have resulted in floods that continue to affect many communities in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Over the coming weeks the full extent of the damage will become clearer, but there has already been mass loss of livestock and property, damage to homes and roads, as well as damage to the natural environment in the affected regions.

Many of the worst floods are in “bushranger country”, notably around Forbes and surrounds in New South Wales, Deloraine in Tasmania where locals are experiencing the worst floods in living memory, and “Kelly Country” in Victoria, particularly around Seymour. There is no doubt that there will have been damage to places of significance where bushranger history is concerned, and possibly buildings and items of historical significance have been damaged or destroyed.

Even as the flooding was first unfolding, efforts were being made to help these communities get back on their feet. A number of charities have established funds for this purpose. With more flash flooding predicted for New South Wales and northern Victoria, including places like Tumut and Gundagai, there is still much to endure before a clean-up effort can be launched in earnest.

Clarke petition

Braidwood historian Judy Lawson has launched an online petition in a bid to gain support for her push to have the signs related to the Clarke story in the district updated to reflect a more nuanced and historically accurate take on the story.

Lawson argues that the current signs are too unambiguous and portray a skewed version of events that place the Clarkes and their relatives as murderers and thieves, despite many of these charges never having been laid against them in life, nor any conviction secured for many of the ones that were.

In particular, Lawson posits, the claim that Tommy Clarke and his gang ambushed and murdered a party of Special Constables near Jinden should be retracted as there is no clear or definitive evidence to back it up. This is the central conceit of her book The Clarke Bushrangers: A Clash of Cultures, in which she outlines and discusses the evidence that does exist and the alternative explanations for the crime.

The petition is available to access online via this link:

Captain Thunderbolt’s Folly

Retired marketing man John Donohoe has written a book about Frederick Wordsworth Ward, alias Captain Thunderbolt, entitled, Captain Thunderbolt’s Folly – The Day the Gentleman Bushranger Got Himself Killed. The book will cover the events that led to the death of Frederick Ward, and Donohoe indicates he will cover ground rarely trodden.

Much like my book about Ben Hall, I have got a barrow to push. I have certain chapters where I deal with controversies that haven’t been dealt with before.

John Donohoe [Source]

The book will attempt to explain how Thunderbolt, a renowned horseman, could have ended his career and his life in a horseback chase.

Donohoe is no stranger to the subject of bushrangers, having published the books Ben Hall’s Treasure: The Search for Bushranger Loot in 2014, and Ben Hall’s Last Days: The End of the Road for Australia’s Greatest Bushranger in 2016. After a career in marketing for chemical industries, Donohoe kindled a passion for Australian history that led to authoring books on the subject.

Captain Thunderbolt’s Folly is slated for a November 2022 release.

[Read more here]

Glenrowan developments

Work on the Glenrowan viewing tower continues, with the multi-million dollar project beginning to take shape. Despite protests from Joanne Griffiths, a descendant of Ned Kelly’s younger sister Grace, that the tower was violating the heritage precinct, the project has continued unabated.

The steel skeleton of the tower was prefabricated and lifted over the base with a crane. [Source]

The tower will overlook the site of the Glenrowan siege, where police fought the Kelly Gang in 1880, enabling visitors to get a more detailed understanding of how the siege unfolded and where key landmarks fit into the current landscape.

Additionally, plans to build a new bridge over the train line at Glenrowan are set to continue despite locals furious at the potential impact to local businesses and the damage it will cause to the siege site. Based on the current previsualisations on display at the temporary ARTC office in Glenrowan, the new bridge will be built next to the existing bridge, which will be demolished, and will extend from the rear of the Kellyland Glenrowan animated theatre and museum to approximately halfway alongside the site of the Glenrowan Inn. This will result in dramatic changes to road access and requires alterations to the Woolshed Road. Work on the bridge has not yet begun.

[Read more here]

Jacqui Stockdale Exhibition

Benalla-raised artist Jacqui Stockdale has launched a new exhibition at the Benalla art gallery that she has called The Outlaws’ Inn, which features her heavily stylised multimedia artwork inspired by the Kelly family.

[Via Jacqui Stockdale Artnews on Facebook]

Having launched on 28 October, on 5 November 2022 the exhibition will be complemented with a performance including “a cast of teenage hooligans […] signing in Auslan” and a dance-off, Stockdale’s newest exhibition, a sequel to ger 2020 take on the Kellys, The Long Shot, is intended as something of a parody of the animated theatre in Glenrowan.

The Outlaws’ Inn will be in the Simpson Gallery at Benalla Art Gallery until 29 January 2023.

[Read more here.]

New Books

Hanging Ned Kelly by Michael Adams: When it came time to hang Ned Kelly, the job fell to crap-carrier-turned-quack-doctor-turned-drunken-chicken-thief Elijah Upjohn. Such is life indeed. Hanging Ned Kelly looks at the life and times, crimes and demise of Australia’s most famous antihero from a new perspective: that of the ‘rogue and vagabond’ who finally put the noose around his neck. Elijah Upjohn was the latest in a long line of flogging hangmen allowed to run amok because they’d do the dirty work that let officials keep their hands clean. Despite being duly appointed ‘finishers of the law’, Upjohn and his fellow boozing bunglers were so hated they were hunted by angry mobs. As one writer asked: ‘Who shall hang the hangman?’ In Hanging Ned Kelly, Elijah Upjohn’s tale becomes the rusty scalpel that slices open the underbelly of colonial Victoria. Written by Michael Adams, creator of the acclaimed podcast Forgotten Australia, this is an odyssey into an infernal underworld seething with serial killers, clueless cops, larrikin vigilantes, renegade reporters, racist settlers, furious fallen women and cunning waxworks showmen. Looming over them all: the depraved hangmen paid to execute convicted men and women – some of them innocent or unfairly condemned – in Melbourne before it was marvellous.

Justice in Kelly Country by Lachlan Strachan: Part way through the Jerilderie Letter, Ned Kelly accused Senior Constable Anthony Strahan of threatening him: ‘he would not ask me to stand he would shoot me first like a dog’. Those few fateful words have echoed through Australian history as the cause of much bloodshed and violence. They marked Anthony forever and ushered in a national myth: the legend of the Kelly Gang. Two days after Anthony allegedly made this threat, Ned and his gang shot dead several police in an act of brutality that became known as the Stringybark Creek killings. Ned’s reason for opening fire? He said he had mistaken one cop for Strahan. Lachlan Strahan, Anthony’s great-great-grandson, grew up with the familiar story of Ned Kelly, the egalitarian rebel, and his ancestor as the villainous cop who had threatened him. Yet as he began to probe into Anthony’s life, he discovered that the truth — and the Kelly legend it has given rise to — was more complex than he believed. Anthony Strahan was a boy from County Kildare who joined the Victoria Police and embodied the thin blue line of law and order in the bush for nearly thirty-five years. He was also possessed of a fiery temper and a desire for justice, and was a major player in the hunt for Ned Kelly, though never recognised for it. Did he utter those incendiary words about Ned? Whose version of history do we believe? This is a tale about law enforcement — about justice and retribution, character and morality. It is also about making a life against the odds in a wild frontier society, race relations, intergenerational shame and anger. Readers will learn more about the Kelly Gang, the Wooragee Outrage, Saucy Jack, a game called Swindle, the Pender Affair and many other criminals, some petty and some villainous. They will strap in for a damn good ride.

Too Young to Hold a Gun by Peter Spencer: Too Young to Hold a Gun is a true story written in the form of a historical novel. It tells the tale of a long-time resident of Howell, William Monckton and his mentor Frederick Ward aka Captain Thunderbolt.
[It relates] the story of William Monckton through his eyes and from his perspective, taking into consideration his age at the time, and the era in which he lived.
This fictionalised account reveals firsthand the hardships of life on the run and the challenges of returning to community life after serving time as a convicted felon. It is really two stories running alongside each other, as he often reminisces about the time he was Thunderbolt’s Apprentice. It has often been said that truth is stranger than fiction.

William Westwood: In His Own Words edited by Aidan Phelan: William Westwood was only sixteen when he was transported from Essex as a convict for stealing a coat. After landing in New South Wales and being assigned to a cruel master who would have him flogged at any opportunity, he decided that he would reclaim his freedom by any means necessary. Years later, as an inmate on Norfolk Island, a place known as the Isle of Despair, William Westwood immortalised his life in written word, and it is reproduced here in full, along with transcriptions of his letters. Contemporary news reports and a collection of images help to fill the gaps and more fully immerse the reader in the world of the notorious “Jackey Jackey”.

Spotlight: William Monckton (various excerpts)

Manilla Express (NSW : 1899 – 1954), Saturday 7 October 1905, page 4


Among visitors at the Howell races on Monday last was Mr. William Monckton, interest in whose earlier career has been revived of late by the publication of his Narrative “Three Years with Thunderbolt’ in a city paper. It was a long while since our repre sentative had previously seen Mr. Monckton. Mr. Monckton informed us that a book dealing with the history of his adventures whilst with “Thunderbolt” will shortly be published. A sensational drama founded on the outlaw’s career is shortly to be staged at the Theatre Royal-Sydney, and it is not improbable that Mr. Monckton will add to the realism of its production by representing in his own person one of the characters in the play. Mr. Monckton looks well. He has led an uneventful life for a long time now, but we could not help observing that his old love for the race meeting is still uppermost, and he was an interested spectator at the good sport provided by tho Howell Jockey Club in celebration of Eight Hour Day. — Inverell Times.

Warialda Standard and Northern Districts’ Advertiser (NSW : 1900 – 1954), Tuesday 10 October 1905, page 3


Among visitors at the Howell races on Monday last, (says Wednesday’s “Inverell Times”) was Mr. William MonCkton, interest in whose earlier career has been revived of late by the publication of his narrative ” Three years with Thunderbolt ” in a city paper. It was a long while since our representative had previously seen Mr. Monckton. He was then under arrest, having surrendered to the police voluntarily. Now he is a well-respected resident of the district, a man anyone would trust with their last coin. Mr. Monckton informed us that a book dealing with the history of his adventures whilst with Thunderbolt would shortly he published. A sensational drama founded on the outlaw’s career is shortly to be staged at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, and it is not improbable that Mr. Monckton will add to the realism of its production by representing in his own person one of the characters in the play. Mr. Monckton looks well. He has led an uneventful life for a long time now, but we could not help observing that his old love for the race meeting is still uppermost, and he was an interested spectator at the good sport provided by the Howell Jockey Club in celebration of Eight Hour Day.

Uralla Times (NSW : 1923 – 1954), Thursday 8 October 1931, page 1



His first public speeches in a life of almost 80 years were made by Mr. William Monckton on Saturday last, at Uralla Picture Theatre.

Mr. Monckton, who, as a boy, spent years with Thunderbolt, consented to lecture on his experiences, to help the funds of Armidale hospital, and accordingly addressed gatherings during the afternoon and night.

The addresses were given in conjunction with a splendid, educational film, “The Romance of the Reaper,” showing the amazing development of harvesting machinery in the past hundred years.

The Secretary of the hospital, who was introduced by Mr. A. L. Munro, thanked Uralla Pictures Ltd. and the I. H. Co., and McRae’s Ltd., for assistance in connection therewith, the Uralla Workers’ Union for foregoing their weekly dance, and last, but, not least, Mr. Monckton for giving his address.

“I am glad to be here to show appreciation on behalf of the hospital,” said the Speaker. “It exists for all those who can’t pay, as well as those who can — and so far it has paid its way, but now it needs assistance more then ever before.”

Mr. R. G. Crapp as chairman, in his usual breezy style, referred to the wide spread interest in Uralla on account of its being the centre of many of Thunderbolt’s exploits and of his death. Visitors from all parts left notes, many of them in terms, of endearment, on Thunderbolt’s grave. “You couldn’t apply them to the bushrangers of to-day”‘ added Mr .Crapp.

Mr. Monckton’s story, which in the main followed that given by him to Ambrose Pratt for the book “Three Years with Thunderbolt,” threw fresh light on various incidents during those three years, but chiefly on the animosity between him and his stepfather and on the identification of Thunderbolt’s body at Uralla after the outlaw had been shot by Constable Walker.

Mr. Monckton told how his father died when he was but five years of age, and some time later his mother married again, more for the children’s sake than her own. From the first his stepfather treated him with the utmost harshness and, failing to enforce obedience otherwise, tried to do so by claiming that he was really his son. This final insult, hotly resented, also failed and acts of fiendish cruelty followed. Several times he ran away, only to be dragged back and flogged. In his last attempt to escape, his father learned of his hiding place, and, with capture imminent he fled for protection to Thunderbolt, who was camped in the vicinity.

Thus began his three years career of adventure, which ended when he left Thunderbolt, gave himself up, and was released for good conduct after serving fourteen months of his sentence of three years.

Stories circulated at the time of Thunderbolt’s death (1) That the man shot was not Thunderbolt, (2) that Mr. Monckton was a prisoner when he identified him, were given the lie direct. He was on his way home, a free man, when Supt. Brown, of the Armidale police galloped up to ask him to view the body, which he did. At his direction the police looked for and found certain old bullet wounds and he further identified the dead man by marks on his hat. “If anyone still maintains that Thunderbolt was not shot, let them tell us where he is, or what became of him,” he challenged.

“Finally, if anyone thinks I have been in the slightest degree a desperate character since that time, they are invited to make inquiries in the Inverell district centres I have lived in ever since,” said Mr. Monckton.

Rousing applause greeted Mr. Monckton at the close of his address.

Bushranging Gazette #20

Saturday, 1 October 2022

Thunderbolts Festival 2022

This year’s Uralla Thunderbolts Festival is scheduled to go ahead on 29 October. Despite the festival intended to commemorate the town’s most popular local bushranging legend, the advertising is more focused on Marvel superheroes and Disney princesses.

The 23rd such festival since its inception, which has seen thousands of visitors attend each year, this year’s event will include markets, Fleet Warbirds street parade that features superheroes and princesses, a rock climbing wall, a hula hoop competition, dual giant slide, live entertainment by Chilli Jam, a jumping castle, and little ones merry-go-round. The event is being held in conjunction with Oxley Riders Bail Up Poker Run and will be held at Alma Park.

New novel tells the story of Thunderbolt and Monckton

Peter Spencer, the great-grandson of Captain Thunderbolt’s boy sidekick William Monckton, has just released a new novel that dramatises his forebear’s life as a boy bushranger.

Thunderbolt and Monckton as depicted in the cover art for Too Young to Hold a Gun [Source]

Spencer, who was a plumber by trade but is now retired, has spent the better part of four decades researching bushrangers, with a particular emphasis on the Thunderbolt story and Monckton’s role in it. Too Young to Hold a Gun is his first novel and attempts to portray a more tangible, relatable version of history than a dry history book. It is also edited by Jane Smith, known for own work on bushrangers, including Thunderbolt, who also assisted with the research and fact checking.

This is my debut novel based on William Monckton, my great-grandfather. It is a fictionalised account told from William’s perspective. It reveals, firsthand, the hardships of a life on the run and the challenges of returning to community life after serving time as a convicted felon.

Of course, I do not know what the characters of this book said, nor whether my account of their emotions is accurate. However, after conducting my research and following contact with the wider family of William Monckton, this is my best reckoning. It is also a tribute to the man who learned a hard lesson and spent the rest of his life as an exemplary member of society.

Peter Spencer [Source]

Copies of the book are available directly from the author. For more information go to or email

Doing the Bolt

Doing the Bolt is an exhibition of convicts and bushrangers. There is an extensive collection of exact replicas and originals including: 30 story boards and banners detailing the life of bushrangers and convicts, pistols and guns flag flown at Eureka Rebellion, cat ‘o nine tails and whipping post, shackles and locks, and much more.

The exhibition is housed adjacent to the Library in the Old Printery building, the historic printing office of the Jerilderie and Urana Gazette run by Mr Samuel Gill. On Monday, 10 February 1879, Ned Kelly tried to find Mr Gill in order to have his manifesto, “The Jerilderie Letter” printed. The restoration of this building was completed in 2012.

Vale Jack Charles

Veteran actor and Aboriginal activist Jack Charles passed away on 13 September following a stroke. Uncle Jack was a Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta man who was part of the stolen generations, co-founded Australia’s first Aboriginal-led theatre group in Melbourne in 1971, and overcame periods of homelessness and drug addiction to become one of the most valued and respected elders.

Uncle Jack will be familiar to fans of bushranger stories on screen, having portrayed Billy Dargin in the 1970s Ben Hall television series, appeared as Harry Edwards in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, and latterly cameoing in True History of the Kelly Gang as a waiter. He leaves behind a proud legacy on stage and screen as well as his important role in the indigenous community as an Elder and activist.

Uncle Jack Charles as Billy Dargin in Ben Hall [Source]

Thunderbolt documentary delayed

The makers of a long anticipated documentary on Frederick Ward, alias Captain Thunderbolt, have regretfully announced that their aim of completing the film for this year’s Thunderbolt festival has fallen down.

Posting to their Facebook page, they stated:

But we just can’t meet our self imposed deadline of getting the doco finished for the 2022 Thunderbolt Festival towards the end of October. Fingers crossed we can get it finished for 2023, but we’re not making any more promises. It will happen when it happens. We hope you’ll stick with us.

Via Facebook

The team had previously updated on their progress in May 2021 and their decision to change the angle they were approaching with the film. It was originally pitched as a film exploring the popular conspiracy theory that Ward had not been killed in 1870, but will now focus more on the journey the filmmakers undertook in trying to find the truth. This was a decision made after the optimistic release year of 2020 was impacted by the pandemic. While a revised release date is yet to be confirmed, it is likely that it will be released in 2023.

Starlight’s artwork

Author and historian Jane Smith recently shared a post about some artworks discovered by the National Art School by Frank Pearson, aka Captain Starlight.

Along with a photograph of herself with the paintings, Smith wrote:

Paintings by Captain Starlight recently came to light and are now on display at the wonderful ‘Captivate’ exhibition at the [National Art School] , celebrating its centenary. It’s also 200 years since they started building Darlinghurst Gaol, which has housed the art school since 1922. Fascinating history! It was a privilege to be at the opening last night.

Via Facebook

The paintings are part of an exhibition that comprises a range of artworks found in a scrapbook owned the former prison governor Sir John Cecil Read that was donated to the art school that now occupies the former Darlinghurst Gaol where many of the most notorious bushrangers did time or were executed.

Read more:

Jingo was Born in the Slum Exhibition

From 1 October 2022 to 4 March 2023, the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery will be hosting an exhibition of Matthew Thorne’s photographs from the making of True History of the Kelly Gang in its Nolan Gallery, alongside many of Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly paintings.

The CMAG describes the collection as, “a darkly powerful exhibition reflecting on the bushranger Ned Kelly and his gang’s exploits in late 1870s Australia and the enduring legacy of the Kelly myth in contemporary culture.”

The exhibition will also include some of the costumes worn in the 2019 film, designed by Alice Babidge.

The Kelly Gang at Glenrowan, Dandenong Rainforest, Victoria, 2018. By Matthew Thorne

Read more:

Spotlight: Capture of Mason, the mate of Thunderbolt (21/09/1867)

Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser (NSW : 1856 – 1861; 1863 – 1889; 1891 – 1954), Saturday 21 September 1867, page 4

Epitome of News


(From last Saturday’s Tamworth Examiner.)

The mate of the notorious Thunderbolt, the youth Mason, has fallen into the hands of the police, and is now safely lodged in the gaol at Tamworth.

In a late issue we gave some of the particulars of a chase by the police of Ward and Mason in the Borah Ranges, and expressed an opinion that the pursuit would probably result in the capture of either one or other of these worthies, and such has proved to be the case. It seems that when constables Lynch and McCausland came upon Ward, Mason, and the mistress of the former on the Borah Ranges, they directed their efforts almost exclusively to the apprehension of Thunderbolt, but he managed to escape with the loss of the spare horse he was leading. Mason could have been then arrested had the police been as anxious for his apprehension as for Ward’s, but as he was not such a dangerous character, he was temporarily allowed to escape. During the pursuit Ward and Mason got separated, and from that time until the latter was arrested, they did not again meet. Mason, believing his mate had fallen into the hands of the police, started off as rapidly as possible from the scene of the encounter, and made his way to Bunnawannah station, and thence to the station of Mr. William Dangar, and the Old Oreel, about thirty-five miles from Millie. He was riding a horse of Mr. Pringle’s, and on reaching Millie the animal knocked up, and Mason then threw away his arms and the saddle and bridle, and proceeded the rest of the distance to Oreel on foot. He got to the station on the morning of the 3rd inst.

In the meantime the police had received information of his presence in the neighbourhood of Millie, and Senior-constable Connerty, of Narrabri, and other members of the force, started in pursuit.

On reaching Millie they separated, Connerty taking the bush in the direction of Oreel. He camped some distance from the station on the evening of the 3rd, and early next morning proceeded up to the station, and seeing Mason there, at once arrested him. He admitted he was the person the constable was in search of, and also that he had been engaged with Thunderbolt in a mail robbery. On searching him, cheques to the amount of upwards of £99 were found in his possession, which had been taken from the Merriwa mail. He was conveyed to Narrabri, and from thence to Tamworth, where he arrived on Sunday last.

His name is Thomas Mason, and he seems to be about 16 years of age. He is of slight build, fair complexion, and not by any means tall for his age. There does not appear to be any trace of insanity about him, as was at one time reported, nor any-thing in his outward appearance to indicate criminal propensities. He states that he was apprenticed out of the Orphan School to a Mr. Shaw, in the employment of Messrs. Gilchrist, Watt, and Co., of Sydney, at the age of 12 or 13 years. He remained with him some time, when he left and proceeded up country. He changed his employers frequently, the last he had being Edwards, and with whom he says he was engaged fencing, when he took up with Thunderbolt. He says be did not at first know who Thunderbolt was; that the latter represented himself as a squatter, and engaged him (Mason) to assist in taking a mob of horses overland. He soon, however, became aware of the character of his new employer, and after having witnessed the first robbery, did not have any compunction at adopting a bushranger’s life.

He was brought before the Police Court on Tuesday last, and remanded on five charges of highway robbery.

We compile the following from the various journals to hand :—


The ‘ Yass Courier’ reports the capture of three of the “Blue Cap” gang of bushrangers, namely Jack-the-devil, Duce, and an aboriginal named Jemmy. This leaves two others at large. The gang, after the attack on the Narrandera mail, near Nariah, were so closely persued by the police that they took to the “Levels,” where they know the country well. Here, on Saturday, 31st August, senior-constable Usher, and constables Little and White, after a long gallop, succeeded in getting up to them, and the three bushrangers, on being called on to surrender, immediately did so, without attempting any opposition.


The ‘South Australian Register‘ says: —Captain Barber, of the steamer Providence, reports being stuck up by three bushrangers near one of the sheep-stations on the Darling. He had come on shore from the steamer, and was proceeding to the station for the purpose of transacting business, when he was stopped by three fellows who were splendidly mounted. One of them demanded whether he was the captain of the steamer, and whether they had any money on board. They went on board the vessel, but would not go below, and left without any booty.


Bromley, the victim of the Rokewood outrage in Victoria, has died of the injuries received. His dying deposition accused Whelan, the man now in custody, of having committed the offence.


The ‘Braidwood Dispatch‘ says:— We understand that James Clarke, the only surviving brother of the outlaw, and who was convicted at the March Sessions in 1865 for passing notes stolen from the Queanbeyan mail, and who was sentenced, by his Honor Judge Meymott, to three years’ hard labour on the roads, has been discharged from custody.

Spotlight: Death of Thunderbolt (4 June 1870)

Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1919), Saturday 4 June 1870, page 24


Death of “Thunderbolt,” the Bushranger.

TELEGRAMS in the daily papers of the 27th ult. apprised the public that the bushranger, Frederick Ward, alias Captain Thunderbolt, had been shot dead, after a desperate fight, by constable Walker, near Blanche’s Inn, Kentucky, on the road from Uralla to Bendemeer, and about four miles from the former station. We are now in a position to supply more extended particulars.

The offender who has thus paid the forfeit of his many crimes had been for several years the terror of travellers and settlers in the Northern districts of the colony, though latterly very little had transpired to bring his name prominently before the public, and excepting for occasional robberies with which it was difficult to credit anybody else, the presumption that he had succeeded in making his exit from the colony would have generally prevailed. Ward was sentenced to ten years’ hard labour on the roads or other public works of the colony, at Maitland assizes in the year 1856, and after obtaining a ticket-of-leave, he was again convicted at Mudgee in 1861, and was serving in 1863 a sentence on Cockatoo Island, whence he escaped in that year, in company with another offender, named Britton. He has thus been about seven years at large. After his escape from Cockatoo he betook himself at once to the Northern districts, and commenced his lengthened career of outrages in the neighbourhood of Singleton. It is believed he was one of two bushrangers who stuck up a hut at Gostwyck station, near Armidale, on the 24th October in that year, and one of whom fired at sergeant Grainger. On that occasion shots were exchanged between the bushrangers and the police; and ultimately, all the parties getting bogged, the offenders escaped through the scrub, leaving their horses and saddles and a gun behind them. From that time to the present, Ward has committed almost numberless robberies, and has had many conflicts with the police, but has always evaded capture, and has remained at large notwithstanding the numerous charges of felony hanging over his head.

It appears that on the day of the final encounter which terminated in his death — viz., on Wednesday last, information had been received by the Uralla police that several persons had been stuck-up by an armed man a few miles south of the township.

Senior-constable Mulhall and constable Walker were promptly at the spot, and seeing the bushranger on horseback, called upon him to surrender. He refused to do so. Shots were exchanged, and the man endeavoured to escape. Constable Walker pursued Ward (who fired on him), single-handed, for seven miles, through a rough country, and across a number of creeks. Ward dismounted at one of the latter, and took to the water. Walker going up, shot Ward’s horse, and then encountered the bushranger in person. Ward presented his revolver at the constable, saying, “Keep off.” Walker replied, “Will you surrender?” Thunderbolt said, “No! I will die first.” Walker then said, “Then it is you or I for it,” and fired the last charge in his revolver. He shot Ward in the left breast dead. This happened about four o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, 25th ult.

The body was taken to Mr. Blanche’s Inn, and a magisterial inquiry was held upon the remains by J. Buchanan, Esq., the police magistrate of the district.

The inquiry, at which the above particulars were elicited, lasted for six hours. It appeared that before the police came up to Thunderbolt he had stuck up three persons, and was riding a grey horse taken from one of them.

The evidence of identification was complete; the personal description tallying exactly with the particulars published, in the New South Wales Police Gazette of the 21st October, 1863. The deceased stood 5 feet 8¼ inches high, and two warts and a mole, described in the Police Gazette notice as being on the right wrist, were plainly visible.

The police magistrate arrived at the following conclusion:— “I am of opinion that the deceased Frederick Ward, alias Thunderbolt, met his death from a gun-shot wound inflicted by a member of the police while in the execution of his duty.”

Constable Walker, who has so signally distinguished himself by his determination and bravery on this occasion, is a native of the colony, his parents being residents of the district of Berrima. He was appointed as a constable on the reccommendation [sic] of the Berrima bench about three years ago. The public of Armidale and Uralla speak highly of his conduct.

Constable Walker has been promoted by the inspector-general of police, and has been placed in charge of a station, as a mark of approval of the Government of his zeal and bravery.

In addition to the benefits he may derive from this mark of official approbation, constable Walker becomes entitled to a very heavy money reward, and it may readily be predicted (as his conduct previous to the late encounter is most favourably reported upon by his superiors) that it will not be long before he will receive further advancement in the force.



Uralla, May 28th, 1870.

The identity of Thunderbolt has this morning been thoroughly established by the boy (Monckton), formerly Ward’s accomplice. This lad had been discharged on Monday last from prison, and arrived last night from Sydney, by the mail. The body of Ward was lying in a coffin at the Uralla Courthouse, and at the moment of the boys entrance, the face was uncovered; the lad instantly said, without the slightest hesitation, “Oh, yes, that is him, right enough.” Subsequently the body was placed in a partially erect position to enable a photographist (Mr. Cunningham, of Armidale) to make photographs of the deceased bushranger, and the boy was again brought in, and in the presence of the police, Dr. Spasshatt, of Armidale (who had made a postmortem examination), and several other gentlemen, reiterated his former statement as to the identity of Ward. He also pointed out where Ward had been shot in the leg about six and a half-years since. At the “Rocks,” distant about a mile from the spot where he received the fatal shot at the hand of the brave constable Walker. The body is not yet interred, and hundreds of persons have been permitted to view it. The greatest excitement prevails, and the only topic is Thunderbolt’s death and Walker’s bravery. A subscription list has been opened for presenting Walker with a substantial testimonial, and is headed by Mr. G. Weston, J.P., with £20.