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.


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.

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.

Spotlight: Will Monckton meets Captain Thunderbolt

The following is extracted from Three Years With Thunderbolt by Will Monckton and Ambrose Pratt. It portrays Monckton’s first meeting with Thunderbolt after fleeing his abusive stepfather, and his attempt to join him in bushranging. The book (originally published as a serial in The Argus, Melbourne,) purports to be a memoir, though it is likely that more than a few liberties were taken by Pratt for dramatic effect. It reads as a novel from Monckton’s perspective and offers very important insights into the life of a bushranger as well as Captain Thunderbolt himself. – AP

Source: Three Years With Thunderbolt; Ambrose Pratt (ed.) 1905. Via: Project Gutenberg

Will Monckton [illustrated by Aidan Phelan]

I paused in the very heart of the forest, panting and almost spent. I was still fighting for breath when of a sudden at no great distance from where I strode unsteadily along a male voice burst forth in song. The notes were sweet and mellow, yet thrillingly distinct.

I stopped abruptly, spellbound, at first with astonishment, and then with a quick ensuing rapture. In one second I had forgotten my stepfather and my terror—everything in the world, indeed, except the wild, sweet music of the unseen singer’s voice, which poured forth in an unbroken stream of harmony, growing, nevertheless, momentarily more pathetic and melancholy. It seemed to me that the singer’s own heart was wistfully vibrating in tune with the touching little story that his song unfolded.

“Oh, don’t you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt?
Sweet Alice with hair so brown,
Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile,
And trembled with fear at your frown!”

The tears started to my eyes as the verse approached its end:—

“In the old churchyard in the valley, Ben Bolt,
In a corner obscure and alone,
They have fitted a slab of granite so grey,
And sweet Alice lies under the stone!”

To the last deep, vibrant note a heavy silence succeeded, during which I could hear my own heartthrobs, but nothing else. I was profoundly moved, and for a long while I did not even wish to stir from my position. Curiosity at length, however, mastered me, and, eager to discover who the singer might be, I stole through the forest with the noiseless caution of an aboriginal. In fifty paces I came upon the edge of a little glade, whence, peering from behind the trunk of a gnarled old red-gum, I beheld, within a dozen feet of me, a man bare-headed, who lay among the grasses, upon the broad of his back, gazing steadily up into the sky’s cloudless blue. Quite near him was a saddle, a silver-bitted bridle, and a swag. A magnificent chestnut horse, evidently a thoroughbred, stood nosing at his hobbles at a little distance off. At a glance I recognised the horse. It was “Combo,” Thunderbolt’s famous steed.

Was, then, the man lying so still before me Thunderbolt himself? The question flashed into my mind, and involuntarily I sighed, whereupon whatever doubts I had entertained were rapidly resolved.

With a speed that dazzled me, the man sprang from his recumbent attitude to his knees. One hand plucked a revolver from his belt, and, before I could move or speak I was looking over the muzzle of a cocked six-shooter into a pair of keenly watchful dark-brown eyes.

“Hands up!” he commanded curtly.

I obeyed him instantly, and yet, boy as I was, I experienced no fear. Some instinct told me that the man who could sing as I had heard that man sing a moment since would not harm one so friendless and miserable as I.

“Are you Thunderbolt?” I asked.

“I am Thunderbolt!” he replied. “Who are you?”

“I am Will Monckton,” I answered quietly. “I have been looking for you, sir!”

Thunderbolt got slowly to his feet and leisurely surveyed me, without, however, ceasing to keep me covered with his pistol. I returned his regard respectfully and yet curiously, for I was more than anxious to discover what manner of man he might be from whom I had been driven to seek help and protection.

He was about five feet nine or ten inches in height, strongly and yet gracefully built. He wore a full dark beard, but his head was a little bald, which made me think him older than he was. He seemed to me very good-looking. His nose was straight and shapely. He had a kind, yet grave expression, and I thought his mouth resembled my mother’s, and I was glad; also his eyes, although they were larger and darker than hers.

My poor mother! I know now that Thunderbolt’s expression resembled hers merely by reason of its sadness. But I was too young then to understand that melancholy marks even traces on its victims, although their fates be as widely separated as the Poles.

Captain Thunderbolt [illustrated by Aidan Phelan]

“I have heard of you,” said Thunderbolt presently. “I saw you this morning with Charley, didn’t I?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did he tell you where to find me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You are alone, of course?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What do you want with me?” he demanded.

“I have run away from home, sir. If my stepfather catches me he will half kill me. Even if he didn’t I would not go back to him. He is a brute, and I hate him.”


“Let me stay with you, sir—will you, please?”

Thunderbolt quietly uncocked his pistol and returned it to his belt. He looked me up and down for another full minute, and then, without saying a word, he sat down upon the ground. Leaning backwards, he put his hands behind his head and rested thus against his saddle, staring up at me.

“Please let me stay with you, sir,” I entreated.

“Do you want to be an outlaw?” he demanded.

“Anything!” I cried. “Anything rather than let my stepfather catch me.”

Such was my reply to his question, and I was sincere in what I said. But in very truth, at that moment I had never even dreamed of becoming a bushranger.

“Rob coaches?” asked Thunderbolt.

I nodded, feeling myself grow pale.

“Fight the police?”

I felt completely frightened at that prospect, but the die was cast, and I nodded again.

“Risk hanging, Will Monckton? You’d be hanged if you were caught, boy.”

“So would you,” I cried. “But they have been after you for years.”

“Bah! they’ll never take me—alive,” he retorted fiercely. “But with you it would be another matter. I have had two boys already. The first—poor young Thompson—was shot last April twelve months near Bathurst in a fight with the police. The other—Mason—was taken a month ago, and he is now in gaol. You had better go home, Will.”

“I will never go home. I’ll die first,” I said desperately.

He shook his head. “I’ve heard a good deal about the way your stepfather has treated you,” he said quietly. “But tell me your story, Will, and we shall see.”

Nothing loth, I poured out the full history of my wrongs, and did my best to prove to him how desperate I felt, and how utterly impossible it was that I should go home.

He listened to me very gravely without once interrupting, but when I had finished and was silent, he sat up, and pointed a finger at my breast. “Your stepfather is a cruel ruffian,” he said quietly, “but listen to me, Will Monckton——” he paused.

“Yes, sir,” I said anxiously.

“You are in the right of it now, lad,” replied the bushranger. “But you’ve no excuse to become a criminal. A few beatings more or less, what do they matter to a hard young rip like you? Why you’ll soon grow too big to beat—big enough to beat your stepfather, in fact. Take my advice, Will, and go back home. Remember, you have a mother to think of. How would she feel if you turned bushranger?”

I was silent, for mention of my mother had brought a lump to my throat.

“Let me tell you my own story,” went on Thunderbolt, after a little pause. “When I was a boy, not much older than you, Will, I got mixed up with some bad companions—cattle-thieves they were, though I didn’t know it then. One day I was with them in the bush, and the police came on us, and arrested us all. We were tried for stealing cattle, and though I tell you before God, Will, that I was innocent, I was convicted with the others, and sentenced to a long term of imprisonment on Cockatoo Island. I think I felt then pretty much as you do now—just as if the whole world was against me, and I against the world. Well, boy, I swore to be revenged on the world that had treated me so badly; and I have. You have heard, no doubt, how I broke out of gaol, and swam from Cockatoo Island to the mainland, and how I made good my escape. Well, that was years ago, and I’ve been a criminal ever since. For the last four years I have been outlawed—every man’s hand against me, I alone against them all. I’m not denying I have had a pretty fair time—and the life is full of pleasure and excitement to a man of spirit. But I tell you this, Will Monckton—if I had my time to come over again, I would serve out my sentence on Cockatoo Island, and try afterwards to lead an honest life. I would, so help me, God!”

He spoke with such solemn earnestness that I was deeply impressed. But at the same time I felt such a sympathy for him, and admired him so much, I did not wish to leave him at all. Beyond and above that, I was of a very stubborn disposition, and I had always had a great pride in sticking to my word.

“I have left home, and for ever,” I muttered.

Thunderbolt gravely shook his head. “Be guided by my advice, boy, and go back!” he said.

“I have left home for ever,” I repeated doggedly.

The outlaw shrugged his shoulders and got to his feet. Paying me no further heed, he took up his bridle and strolled over to where his beautiful horse was feeding. Two minutes later Combo was saddled, and Thunderbolt had climbed to his back.

“You are not going to leave me?” I cried out in alarm.

“I am going to my camp,” replied Thunderbolt. “It is about a mile and a half down the creek.”

“Let me go with you.”

“No, not now. Think over what I have told you, Will, for a few hours, and then, if you are still in the same mind, come to my camp. I like your looks, boy, and I’d be glad to have you for a partner, for I’m cursed lonely sometimes. But, for your own sake, and for the last time, I advise you not to look me up again. Go home, boy! Good-bye.”

He touched Combo with his heels, and the horse bounded away at half a gallop through the trees.

I shouted out to him to wait, to stop for one moment, but the outlaw did not even turn his head. I watched until the trees had shut him from my view, and then, my brain whirling with excited thoughts, I threw myself down in the grass where Thunderbolt had been lying, and buried my head in my arms.

Spotlight: Capture of “Thunderbolt’s” Wife (10 April 1866)

Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Tuesday 10 April 1866, page 3


We have Sydney papers to the 4th inst. The following are extracts :–

CAPTURE of “Thunderbolt’s” Wife. — A short time since, a police party, consisting of senior-sergeant Kerrigan, constable Scully, a black tracker, and a volunteer – Norman Baton, went through the New England and Stroud district in search of Ward, alias Thunderbolt, and on Tuesday last, at a place called Pignabarney Creek, about thirty miles from Nundle, they sighted a half-caste woman with horse, saddle, bridle, and swag, and believing her to be Ward’s wife, they asked her where Ward was; she said she was “the captain’s lady,” and Ward had been chased two days previously by the police; that she had since been in search of him with provisions and was unable to find him in the mountains. Her swag contained a suit of man’s clothes and some provisions, and on the grass lay a child about nine months old, and by its side a shear blade, fastened to a long stick, with which she used to ride up to cattle and kill them when short of provisions. She was taken to Stroud (a journey, of three days) on horseback, and was there charged with vagrancy, having no fixed place of abode nor visible means of support. On this charge she was convicted, and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in Maitland gaol. She stated that Thunderbolt had some time ago been wounded by the police with a bullet in the leg, and that his horse, since falling on him, had hurt the same leg so much that she did not think he could long survive; and further, that they had gone to where she was taken as a sort of refuge to be out of danger of capture, whilst he rested to receive the use of his leg. On the day she last saw him she had to lift him on his horse just as the police came in sight. The camp at Pignabarney was in a wild unfrequented part of the New England district, and fully twenty-five miles from any house, hut, or homestead. Two parties of police were still in pursuit of Thunderbolt when our informant left Stroud.

Robbery of the Up and Down Mails between Campbelltown and Wollongong.— We learn from a gentleman who arrived in town yesterday, from Wollongong, and who left that place by the Monday evening mail, that on reaching London Creek, some twelve miles from Wollongong, about one o’clock on Tuesday morning, they stopped to change horses. It was then discovered that the down mail from Campbelltown, with one passenger, had been stopped there by two armed men, with masked faces, at about ten o’clock the previous night. The fellows immediately seized the coachman, whom they bound securely hand and foot to a tree; the solitary gentleman passenger was served in the same way; and as if determined not to be baulked in their design of overhauling the mail bags, the ruffians also secured the groom in charge of the horses, and his wife, the latter being strapped tightly into a chair. This done all four were gagged, some rags and pieces of cloth being rolled up tightly in hard balls, and forced into the mouths of their helpless victims. The ruffians then lay in wait for the up mail, which, as already stated, reached the customary place for changing horses close upon 1 o’clock, there being eleven passengers by her, bound to Sydney. The night being beautifully fine and clear, one of their number alighted, and walked towards a man whom he saw standing in the direction of the stables. Without looking at the party addressed, he asked in a jocular tone if they had got any grog? The fellow spoken to immediately replied, “Go up into that corner and you will find grog there.” He hesitated, however, and looking up at his newlymade acquaintance, remarked “you’re surely joking,” which observation was followed in a commanding tone by an order to “get into the corner immediately, or he would blow his head off if he disobeyed.” Having by this time found out that he was in the hands of a bushranger, and that resistance was useless, the wayfarer yielded to his fate. The fellow then proceeded to make the passengers fast, as they had done the others, whilst his mate covered them with a loaded pistol. Subsequently, however, on the suggestion of one of the passengers, the highwaymen agreed to dispense with the bailing-up and gagging part of the proceedings, on condition that they would quietly hand over what money they had upon them, which they gladly consented to. The robbers thus got about £20 from the passengers, besides which they rifled the down mail, opening every letter and scattering them about the road. The up passengers – amongst whom were several Sydney gentlemen, the Rev. W. Curnow, Wesleyan minister, being of the number – were detained rather better than an hour. Before allowing the coachman to drive on, the robbers took a couple of his horses, which they mounted and rode off. Shortly after one of the stolen animals was recovered, some distance ahead on the road to Campbelltown. The animal being rather refractory, and ill to ride, it is conjectured his new masters were glad to get rid of him, lest his pranks might draw attention to them, and possibly lead to their detection. One of the highwaymen is described as being a tall, strapping young fellow, evidently a native, the other a short, thick-set elderly man, rather round-shouldered. Besides the pistols, the men were each armed with formidable looking carving or bowie knives, which they seemed quite disposed to use if necessary. Information, we understand, was given to the police at Appin, and also at Campbelltown, and the troopers, somewhat tardily, turned out and went in pursuit, with what success we have yet to learn.

Spotlight: Captain Thunderbolt Rides Again (1988)

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Thursday 10 November 1988, page 31

Captain Thunderbolt rides again

A “MUSIC-DRAMA” about the relationship between a singing bushranger and his opera-fancying girlfriend opens in Queanbeyan tonight. It is Captain Thunderbolt by local composer Vivien Arnold, who is also the director of the show.

Captain Thunderbolt, alias Frederick Ward, was in the habit of singing the Victorian parlour song, Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still, and was introduced to opera by Mary Ann Bugg, a half-caste Aboriginal, otherwise known as Queen Yellow-long.

Bugg developed her interest in opera while at boarding school in Sydney where she was sent by her father. She passed her enthusiasm on to Thunderbolt so throughly that he once bailed up a German band and made them play opera numbers.

Arnold said that though Thunderbolt took the band’s money initially, he later returned it “with a tip” and this was one aspect of his character which interested her.

Thunderbolt operated for seven years in the 1860s — at first west of Sydney and then north of Newcastle up to the Queensland border — and stole 20,000 pounds, but he was “the Robin Hood of Australia in many ways”, Arnold said. He would often let would-be victims keep their money if he found they were in need.

But the music-drama was “not totally one-sided” in favour of Thunderbolt. It was recognised that “robbery’s robbery after all” and Arnold attempted to show both sides and tried to make the characters as human as possible.

Arnold based the libretto of the show on a book called A Ghost Called Thunderbolt, by another local, Stephen Williams. Arnold worked from his manuscript before the book was published.

Arnold said she began writing the music-drama a little under two years ago and it took over a year to write part time. The cast began rehearsals in May and have “needed every second of the time”, because the music was quite difficult to perform, Arnold said.

There were two things she aimed for when composing the music, for it to be modern and at the same time reminiscent of 19th century music.

Arnold said a cast of very fine singers who were extremely dedicated and really believed in the music-drama had been assembled including Fran Bosley-Craft and Mary O’Brien. Thunderbolt is played by Lindsay Roe.

Arnold said the show was not like anything the Queanbeyan Players had done before. The fare was usually “light and frivolous”, but Captain Thunderbolt was a “music-drama — very sad . . . tear jerking”. The musical director is David Ellis and the assistant director Allan Cope.

Captain Thunderbolt will run at the Queanbeyan Community Centre from November 10 to 12 and 17 to 19 at 8pm. Tickets are available at the Lucky Star Kiosk, 119 Monaro St Queanbeyan,

and Bass outlets in the ACT. Tickets are $10.50 and $8.50 concession.


Spotlight: Thunderbolt (1941)

Note: Readers are advised that the following contains language that is considered offensive in the modern day. It is included intact only for the purposes of accuracy to the historical document that is being transcribed, and context. It is important to see the way in which such derogatory language was so flippantly used in the past in order to better understand the impact it has had on those who were portrayed so derisively. Understanding the cruelty of the past can act as a tool to prevent its perpetuation, even in such a seemingly innocuous thing as a word, phrase or description. It’s not the words that hurt, but the ideas behind them.


Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser (NSW : 1886 – 1942), Friday 9 May 1941, page 2


A writer in Wingham ‘Chronicle,’ discussing the career of Frederick Ward, alias Thunderbolt, says he was a crack horse breaker before developing into a scientific bushranger and horse thief on a big scale. Nevertheless, his daring horsemanship procured him many friends. One station owner out West is said to have obtained 700 clean skins through his agency in one season. Again, when old Neil Macinnes seized him in the Denison pub, not a man stirred to assist Macinnes, who was fair to desist when threatened with the boy Moulton’s knife.

One of his favorite places of call was the house of Jimmy Bugg, on the Middle Monkerai. Bugg was a short, fair-complexioned Englishman, with a decided nasal accent, caused by a blow from an abo’s tomahawk. He had been sent out for some trifling offence, and being assigned to the A.A. Company, had spent his first Xmas in Australia at Campbell’s Valley, near Stroud, dining sumptuously on a boiled eel. By good conduct he had risen to the office of overseer on one of the Company’s out sheep stations. Later, he shifted to the Middle Monkerai and settled on a farm not far from where in the early days the wild natives had killed and eaten Sam Tongue, one of the Company’s shepherds.

Like many of the old hands, Bugg had contracted an alliance with a native woman, who afterwards saved his life at Berrico, when attacked by the blacks, by firing on them. Bugg married her out of gratitude, and she, discarding her native patronymic, adopted the name of “Charlotte.” There were eight children, the two eldest, Jack and Mary Anne, being fairly well educated. Mary Anne was the half-caste girl who threw in her lot with the bushranger, and she was with him in all his wanderings, and bore him 4 children — all daughters. His narrowest escape was on Massies Creek, on the Upper Allyn. Here he was sighted by the police and two young men of the district who were expert horsemen. In the chase that ensued, the police were left far in the rear, and the fugitive was so hard pressed by the leading horsemen that when fired on he took the desperate course of leaping his horse over a cliff of rocks and vines. He thus escaped, but he was too good a judge of horse flesh to go far — for, very shortly after, his pursuer’s pony was counted amongst the missing ! !

Thundrebolt was now ensconced in a little cave on the Buckets (above “Bookan” — “Big Rocks”) near the present Trig Station. Here one of his children was born. He obtained water at a spring away to the left, but where he kept his horses was a mystery. On the big flat, in front of Gloucester, the periodical race meeting was in full swing, and old Tom Brown’s hotel booth was doing a roaring trade. All the local flyers were competing, and amongst them the Monkerai crack — Martin’s Wild Hawk — performed with signal success. Five police were on the ground, and, having suspicions of Thunderbolt’s whereabouts, kept a close eye on the movements of the half-castes, Jimmy Doyle and young Jimmy Bugg. But, under the very noses of the police, liquid refreshments were conveyed to Thunderbolt, who was watching every race from behind the thorn bushes by the river, and, when darkness fell, he, with true hardihood, mixed amongst the throng. Next morning great was the uproar — the Monkerai crack, Wild Hawk, had found a new master!


Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893), Tuesday 30 April 1867, page 2


(From the Armidale Express, April 27.)

On Sunday night, about half-past nine, as Mr. Brereton was driving the down Northern mail coach, and had arrived about three miles on the Tamworth side of Bendemeer, a person rode up and asked if the escort was with the coach. On Mr. B replying in the negative, he was directed to bail up by the armed bushranger, who, he states was Thunderbolt, and in whose company was a lad (possibly the half-caste woman). After an unsuccessful attempt to proceed Mr. Brereton was obliged to comply with the demand and the coach was taken a convenient distance off the road into a scrub, and the bushranger ordered the only passenger, an old man, to throw out the mail bags, which he did. Thunderbolt then examined the letters, in which there appeared to be little money, but he pocketed what was believed to be a number of cheques. When about to decamp he told the mailman to gather up the opened letters. He and the lad then left, in the direction apparently of Hall’s Creek, on the Namoi. Nothing was taken from the driver or the passenger. It is believed that there was not much value in the mail, and from Armidale it appears there were no registered letters. The sticking up occurred close to one of Mr. Perry’s sheep stations, so near that the persons at the station heard people talking at a short distance, although they did not know what about. In the morning, on going down to the scrub, they saw that the mail had been robbed and reported it.

It is believed that prior to the robbery, Thunderbolt let loose a knocked-up horse, belonging to Mr Gill, outside Mr Perry’s paddock, from which he took a valuable horse of Mr Perry’s. The following being Easter Monday and a holiday, the news did not reach Armidale till the afternoon, when Inspector Brown left with some troopers for the scene of the robbery. But although police from Armidale, Bendemeer, Walcha, Tamworth and Nundle were out as soon as the report reached them, we can hear nothing of their having discovered any trace of Thunderbolt and his companion since they left the spot, although they made enquiries at the various stations, and endeavoured to intercept the bushranger at spots which he is now known to have passed on former occasions.

Thunderbolt’s Last Ride

Tuesday, 24 May, 1870, began as any usual day would for Fred Ward, alias Captain Thunderbolt. He arose early and left his camp at the big rock on horseback. The rock was a bizarre natural structure, like a huge marble defying physics to teeter on a cliff, split down the middle providing ample space to hide for a bushranger. On the way he met a man named Pearson who was en route from Salisbury Mountain. Ward asked Pearson if he would make it to Blanche’s Inn by going in that direction, to which he replied in the affirmative. Pearson was an old associate of Ward’s and asked if he remembered him from their days breaking in horses in Mudgee. Ward replied that he did but added that he could not stop to chat. After the brief interaction Ward rode off on his way. For months Ward had laid low, only emerging once in a while to resume his trade. Many had assumed that he had left New South Wales altogether. Now he was ready to get back to work and he thought he knew the perfect spot for highway robbery.

Blanche’s Inn was situated at Church Gully between Bendemeer and Uralla and it was here that Ward decided to work for the day. Before midday Ward had robbed three travellers, including the proprietor of the inn and his wife who were returning on a spring cart from an outing to Uralla. Ward deprived Mrs. Blanche of a purse then allowed them to continue on their way. Word reached the police in Uralla at 3:30pm when Giovanni Cappasoti, a hawker who had been one of the victims, made a complaint that a bushranger had stuck him up at Blanche’s Inn and stolen £3.13s.6d, a watch and chain, a gold nugget and jewellery. Cappasoti had been heading to the Uralla races from Tamworth when accosted. Following this he had gone into the inn for a drink, which Thunderbolt shouted him after following him inside. Cappasoti then drove his wagon to Donnington’s farm, took his horse out, and rode to the police station. In response to the news Senior Constable Mulhall and Constable Walker set out in pursuit of the infamous Captain Thunderbolt.

Ward was in the process of robbing a man when Senior Constable Mulhall came into view. The hapless victim had been taking a horse belonging to a Mr. Huxham into Armidale when Ward had bailed him up. The handsome grey horse Ward was on when Mulhall appeared was in fact Huxham’s and the man was attempting to get it back when they were interrupted. Spotting the trooper, Ward immediately turned and fired twice at the him, who returned fire twice. Ward took off towards Kentucky Creek, the stockman in pursuit. Mulhall turned back and met Walker who had been bringing up the rear.

“There is the wretch; I have exchanged shots with him. Shoot him,” Mulhall ordered Walker. Walker, dressed in plainclothes, immediately pursued Ward. The other man accidentally cut Walker off by blocking the path with his horse, which was evidently spooked by the commotion. As Walker drew his revolver he accidentally discharged it into the ground. Ward, believing he was being shot at, fired at Walker but missed. The bushranger took off as fast as the horse would take him, the trooper following suit.

For the prior seven years, Ward had been able to outride the police and escape capture at every opportunity, however this time he was missing the key ingredient for his success – his wife Mary Ann Bugg. In previous incidents, Mary Ann had often run interference for Ward, allowing herself to be captured in order to give her lover time to get away. Now that Ward was operating alone he was entirely reliant on his horsemanship and the speed and endurance of his horse.

Constable Walker galloped after Ward, brandishing his revolver and calling on the outlaw to halt in the name of the Queen. Ward replied by firing at the trooper with a pistol. The hooves of the animals churned up the dust, which coiled in large sandy coloured clouds behind them. The rhythmic pounding of the galloping passed through the bodies of the riders. Wind whipped at Ward’s thin curls and he jabbed his spurs into the horse’s flanks. Walker stuck to him like glue, matching every dodge and weave as they bounded over creeks and through bush for around an hour.

Finally Ward reached a junction of Chilcott’s Waterhole and Kentucky Creek. He dismounted and began to wade out into the waterhole. Walker rode to the bank, shooting Ward’s horse to make escape impossible should he double back. As Walker found a spot to cross, Ward climbed out of the waterhole and discarded his coat. He ran 120 yards up Kentucky Creek and crossed to the opposite bank. By now Walker had caught up and was by the creek with his pistol drawn. Ward returned the gesture. As they faced off Walker finally got a good look at the legendary Thunderbolt. Far from being a handsome, dashing highwayman in stolen finery, Ward was skinny, ill-kempt and balding. His sinewy hand flexed as he steadied his revolver towards the trooper.

Constable Walker, dressed in the same clothes and riding the same horse as on the fateful confrontation, recreates his capture of Thunderbolt at the exact spot where it occurred.

“Who are you?” Ward demanded, confused by the policeman’s attire.


“Are you a trooper?”

“Yes, and a married man,” Walker stated.

“In that case, think of your family and keep off,” Ward barked.

“Will you surrender?”

“No! I will die first.”

Walker tightened his grip on the reins of his horse. He could feel his heart in his throat.

“Well, then it is you or I for it,” Walker said. With that he directed his mount into the water and the beast crashed into the creek, becoming totally submerged.

[Source: National Museum of Australia]

Ward, unable or unwilling to follow through with his bluff, rushed into the water attempted to drag Walker out of the saddle. Water splashed around them as they struggled, the horse becoming increasingly hard to control. Walker fired a shot into Ward’s left breast just below the clavicle. The ball punctured both lungs as it made its way out under the right shoulder blade. Ward collapsed into the water but the rose and lunged at Walker again, the trooper clubbing the bushranger in the head with the pistol. Ward uttered no words as he sank into the water. Walker waited for a reply, but none came. He rode back onto the bank of the creek and dismounted before wading into the water to recover the body. He dragged the drenched bushranger onto dry land but by now dusk was settling in. Walker rode back to Blanche’s Inn and procured a horse and cart to recover the body but by the time he reached the location again it was too dark to find the exact spot.

The following day at 3:00am, Walker and Senior Constable Scott returned to the junction of Kentucky Creek. To Walker’s consternation, the body was gone. The immediate panic was allayed after a brief search of the area when they found Ward’s dead body in the scrub on the opposite side of the road. After Walker had left Ward had just enough life left in him to drag himself across the road. As he made it into the scrub he collapsed and there he died alone in the night. The body was loaded into the cart and taken back to Blanche’s Inn. When the corpse was inspected by the troopers they found a collection of jewellery taken from the Italian hawker, a silver stop watch, a small gold nugget, imitation gold jewellery and a well-used meerschaum pipe. They also found an iron horseshoeing hammer that they suspected was Ward’s own. Ward was dressed in strapped moleskin trousers, long boots, two Crimean shirts, and had been wearing an old cabbage tree hat. After a post mortem was completed the corpse was photographed so that it could be identified without the body having to be viewed as there was not adequate facilities for the body to be preserved.

J. Buchanan, esquire, the local police magistrate, helmed the magisterial inquiry into the remains at 2:00pm on the Thursday. For six hours evidence was taken from Walker, Mulhall, Senior Constable Scott, Cappasoti the hawker, a banker named Ward who had been robbed by Thunderbolt near Moredun the previous April, Senior Sergeant Balls, Pearson, Blanche the innkeeper and Dr. Spasshat. The body was compared to the official description put out by police in October 1863: 5’8 1/4″ tall; pale, fallow complexion; light brown, curly hair; hazel eyes; mole on right wrist and two warts on the back of the middle finger of the left hand. Senior Sergeant Balls, who had been one of the guards on Cockatoo Island when Ward had escaped with Fred Britten, positively identified the body as Ward, as did Ward the banker, Pearson and Dr. Spasshat.

In consequence of his meritorious conduct, Alexander Binning Walker was given a promotion to the rank of Senior Constable and placed in charge of a station. He also received £32 from a subscription collected at the conclusion of the inquest.

It was considered by a great many people that the death of Captain Thunderbolt would signify an end to bushranging in New South Wales. By this point Ben Hall, Johnny Gilbert, John O’Meally, Dan Morgan, and Tommy Clarke were all dead, and Frank Gardiner was in prison along with scores of other bushrangers. Many were hopeful that now they could travel safely through the colony without fear of molestation, and they need not worry that their farms or stores would be raised. It was true that the peak of bushranging ended with Thunderbolt’s death, but it would be at least another fifty years before the scourge of bushranging had evaporated almost entirely.

Frederick Wordsworth Ward, post mortem [Source: State Library of New South Wales]