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 https://pjspencer.com/ or email tooyoungtoholdagun@gmail.com

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: https://www.smh.com.au/culture/art-and-design/thrilling-gift-reveals-artistic-side-of-killers-and-bushrangers-20220902-p5bf0l.html

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: http://www.cmag.com.au/exhibitions/mathew-thorne-jingo-was-born-in-the-slum

Spotlight: Local & General Intelligence, Tumut and Adelong (11 May 1865)

Tumut and Adelong Times (NSW : 1864 – 1867; 1899 – 1950), Thursday 11 May 1865, page 2

Local & General Intelligence

The Araluen Escort Robbery. — Daniel Ryan, of Murrumburrah, lately arrested at that place, by Mr. Bray’s volunteer party, on a charge of being concerned with Ben Hall’s gang, in the attack on the Araluen escort, and who was remanded to Braidwood for identification, has being identified as being with the party on the Araluen mountain, and also when they stuck up Boyd’s store, at Tarago. — Goulburn Argus.

Expensive Gents. — The Yass Courier calculates that, during four years, it has cost the colony £200,000 to hunt Hall, Gilbert, and Dunn, in which all the efforts of the police have been ineffectual.

Captain Thunderbolt and his Gang. — The Tamworth Examiner says : — After various petty robberies this gang were surprised by the police whilst in possession of Mr. Walford’s inn at Millie. The police had been tracking them for four days, and reached Mr. Walford’s 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 to the house, 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 firing distance a short way from the house. Tunderbolt 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 seemed not to be 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 Dalton shouted to constable Norris to take charge of him, while 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 horse’s neck, and the ball luckily passed over him. Constable Norris came up at this moment, and again fired at the ruffian, the ball taking effect, having entered the jaw and escaped at the back of the neck. During the whole of the time constable Lynch was keeping the other three bushrangers at bay, and succeeded in doing so, notwithstanding that Ward, who was mounted on a fine chesnut horse, several times rode between the police and the youth, 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 nearly 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. The encounter lasted altogether 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. The head of the gang, who goes under the name of ‘Thunderbolt,’ is named Ward, and has been engaged in several 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 Thomson, a youth about sixteen years of age, and is described as a very dangerous vagabond. He had frequently expressed a wish to join the bushrangers. The fourth man is known by the name of ‘Bull’ or ‘Bully.’ Thomson and Ward are well acquainted with the part of the country on which they have been recently committing their depredations, and the former with his companions will doubtless make for his old haunts on the head of some of the creeks running into the Barwin, near Walgott. [Thomson has since died.]

Attempt on Wendlan’s Life. — Almost as might have been expected, the life of Wendlan, who shot Morgan, has become endangered through the spirit of revenge on the part of some of the scoundrel’s accomplices. A fellow named Thomas Maslen has been brought before the Bench at Wahgunyah, charged with threatening to avenge Morgan’s death by shooting Wendlan. He was found with arms, powder, balls, caps, and a bottle of strychnine. On Wednesday, Sergeant Hayes stated to the Bench that Maslen could be identified as an accomplice of Morgan, and the prisoner was remanded for a week. — Albury Banner.

A Good Chase and Capture. — The police in this colony have been so unfortunate in their attempts to capture the more notorious bushrangers, that the notion has become general that they are unequal to their duties. But such conclusion is very erroneous, as may be easily seen by reference to the list of captures recently made. The latest successful chase we hear of occurred at Uralla in the North. A man with blackened face robbed a shepherd’s hut, taking from him his only half-crown and everything else of value, and not for three days could information be conveyed to the police. There, however, two troopers started, and after riding 350 miles in five days, succeeded in surprising the robber with his mate in camp, and both of them were lodged safely in limbo. — Pastoral Times.

Morgan’s Legacies. — The Pastoral Times hears that Mr. Commissioner Lockhart is engaged in the district around Albury in trying to clear the country of the wretched villains who aided and abetted the recently slain murderer. Little mercy should be shown to those who, residing on Crown Lands illegally, gave shelter and food to Morgan while he went forth to rob and kill. It is to be hoped that the other Commissioners of Crown Lands in the Wellington districts, and the country where Messrs. Hall, Gilbert, and Co. carry on their avocations, will see that the powers invested in them are used to rid their districts of the aiders and abettors in these crimes.

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]

Spotlight: Thunderbolt’s confession

Many tall tales are told of the various bushrangers from the “glory” days of the 1860s. It must have seemed at one stage that every man and his mother had a story to tell of Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner, Johnny Gilbert, Blue Cap, Dan Morgan or Captain Thunderbolt. Through these yarns, well-spun and oft-repeated, many of the falsehoods generated to raise one’s standing among barflies were accepted as fact and the facts forgotten in favour of the more preferable “big fish” stories. Perhaps owing to his longevity, Frederick Wordsworth Ward, alias Thunderbolt, became the subject of much myth-making. Even today, people maintain beliefs in things like Thunderbolt’s hidden treasure or that he was never really killed, simply because the idea of a colonial Robin Hood with a name that conjures images of a dashing highwayman, on a braying steed illuminated in the night by the jagged streak of a bolt of lightning, are far more exciting than the reality of a robber who was considered more of a nuisance than a bold outlaw. So when someone comes forward with a story of meeting Thunderbolt that portrays him as neither a dashing highwayman or even a competent bushman, it leads one to think that there may be more than a grain of truth in the tale. So it is with this anonymous article, published in 1902 – just over thirty years after Thunderbolt was killed.

Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW : 1900 – 1954), Wednesday 19 November 1902, page 2

In digging among some musty old newspapers I came across a communication headed ‘Recollections of Thunderbolt,’ which may interest the reader : — “As my acquaintance with Thunderbolt was of very recent date prior to his being shot, it has occurred to me that it might interest the majority of your readers (Armidale Telegraph, August, 1870) were I to give an account of the leading occurrences of his life, as narrated to me by the bushranger himself since the time he took up lawless pursuits. My first introduction to the freebooter arose in this wise: My father and myself, who are miners, were engaged in prospecting in a very wild and desolate part of the district of New England, situated among the gorges at the head of Guy Fawkes, a tributary of the Clarence. And here, while we were engaged in driving our packhorses over a creek, we one day encountered a lone bushman, who joined our party. The man was dressed in moleskin trousers, long boots and spurs, Crimean shirt, and rough high hat. He bestrode a horse which was more remarkable for strength than beauty, and carried, rather ostentatiously, as I thought, a revolver in his belt. The stranger seemed equally surprised with my father and myself at the meeting, and after merely exchanging the compliments of the day, rode off, and disappeared in the neighboring ravines. My father, who told me afterwards that he had known Ward personally at an earlier period of his career, said, ‘Did you know who that was?’ And on my answering him in the negative, replied, ‘That is Thunderbolt.’ After the bushranger’s departure we continued our work for some hours till the sun was getting low, and when we settled in camp for the night and were seated at the fire I was surprised on looking round to see the mounted bushranger at my back. He accosted me by saying, ‘Good evening, stranger,’ and inquired whether I had seen any horses about. After telling him that I had not he inquired the name of the nearest station, and how far it was away. I said that Nowland’s or Newby’s was the nearest, the latter being called ‘Paddy’s Land’, which was 12 miles off. ‘And what may your name be?’ said the bushman. ‘My name is —, and the man with me is my father.’ Thunderbolt thereupon dismounted, hobbled his horse, and spent the night with us. He revived his old acquaintanceship with my father, gave us an account of his later career and the robberies, perils, and hardships of his bushranging life. He refused the proffered shelter of our tent, remarking that for the last seven years he had never slept but for one night in a bed, and preferred camping in his own blankets outside. I had never seen the bushranger before, and was much struck with the mildness of his conversation, the candor of his narratives, and the justness of his views regarding his unlawful courses. I was astonished at his tales, and felt much commiseration for the misguided and unhappy criminal. His account of his daring and courageous escape from Cockatoo, seven years before, more particularly interested me, as I had often heard it stated by those well qualified to give an opinion that he never could have swum from the island, by reason of the distance, not less than on account of the number of sharks, and that he must have been assisted by some confederate in a boat. The way he told he accomplished his escape was by getting a fellow prisoner, as a first step, to build him up and secrete him in a quantity of bricks lying near the water. There in silence he lay, awaiting the approach of night. He heard, with anything but satisfaction, an officer order a party of convicts to place upon the bricks a quantity of lime, in bags, a small cargo of which had been landed at the island. The order was executed, and for a short time the bushranger was under the idea that he would be smothered. At dark he commenced to disentomb himself, and after many struggles succeeded. He heard the sentries marching their round by the margin of the island, one of whom was posted just opposite to where he lay concealed. The first idea which occurred to him was to run and tumble the guard into the water and swim away, but, fortunately for the sentry, he himself rendered such a step unnecessary by withdrawing to have a chat with his comrade, during which the bushranger glided into the water and swam three miles to a place of safety. He hated the bondage of Cockatoo and its convict company, and seemed to regard it as a place little better than the infernal regions. Besides his natural hatred of confinement, another object, he said, induced him to effect his escape from Cockatoo, which was a desire to shoot his uncle, who, he affirmed, bore false witness against him, thereby leading to his conviction on a charge of horsestealing, of which he was quite innocent. This revengeful purpose forsook him as he was swimming, when he formed a resolution to shed no blood on any account, and his whole criminal career was free from cruelty, treachery, and bloodshed.

‘Thunderbolt was a generous robber, if a term like that can be applied to such a criminal. He related to us how he had occasionally visited Queensland, Liverpool Plains, the Gwydir, and other districts in the course of his predatory life. He boasted that he was not afraid of the police, because they were no bushmen, and unable, consequently, to ride after him. He referred, among other encounters he had had with the police, to one at the Rocks at Uralla (near the spot where he ultimately met his death), where the police, under Sergeant — now Superintendent — Grainger, attacked him and his mate, and wounded him. He said his horse got bogged and that he limped away on foot, the police not daring to follow him. He confessed to having been hard pressed at times, particularly on one occasion by a Constable named Dalton, near Tamworth, who he said was a brave man. On one occaslon he said he had robbed the mail of £1700, but he seldom had as much money as would pay his way, which he always did when possible. He had often to endure great hardships for want of food, and more especially for want of water. On one occasion, in company with another bushranger, during drought, they were three days without water. His mate’s horse died and the rider succumbed, and lay down to die also. Thunderbolt left him in search of water, assuring him of his return if he found it. His own hunger and thirst increased to such a degree that he shot his horse for the purpose of drinking its blood, after which he collected a quantity in his boot for future supply. Wandering about for more than a day he came upon sludge, and sucked the muddy water from the earth, but could collect none for his mate. Looking about, he saw a hole covered with a piece of bark, but no water in it. He continued his search, and found other holes covered in like manner, and dry. At last, on lifting a piece of bark, imagine his delight on discovering about a bucket of water in a hole. After refreshing himself he filled his boots, and travelled back to where he left his dying mate, from whom he found the breath of life just departing. Wetting his lips, and gradually supplying him with more water, he recovered strength, and joined Thunderbolt in his journey. New England was the chief place of the bushrangers’ resort. He was afraid to leave what he deemed his safe haunts in that district and imperil his liberty by attempting to escape to a foreign country. It was his proud boast that he never violated female virtue, nor shed blood, and he regretted that he should ever have induced youths to join him. Some had joined him unasked: He himself was 16 years of age before he was guilty of any crime, and then he was led by others into it. Although in appearance he looked between 40 and 50 years of age, he was not more than 30. It was a peculiarity of Thunderbolt’s that he could never rob anyone with with whom he had first entered into conversation, his nature would not permit him, hence his custom was to ride up to a person whom it was his intention to rob, and, without another word, demand his money. He pretended never to have known what fear was and instanced this by telling a story of some gentleman in New England who had made a boast that he would shoot him the first he met him. A short time after Thunderbolt met the boaster and saw that he was armed. Boldly riding up to him the bushranger asked his name, and he told him. He intimated that he knew who he was, adding that he was Thunderbolt. The gentleman, he said, trembled and fumbled for his revolver, observing which he cried out, ‘Up with your arms, or I’ll blow your brains out. You were to shoot me, now is my time.’ He then took from him his gold watch and a revolver, the gentleman expecting as a matter of course to be shot. Thunderbolt, however, assured him of his safety, and rode many miles along with him on his way. In company with one of his youthful proteges he one day stuck up a public-house where a number of men were drinking in the bar. He entered and, according to the usual fashion, ordered them to ‘bail up’. The publican, calculating how a compliance with the demand would affect his cash box, made a desperate leap and seized the bushranger by the arms in a way which prevented him from using his revolver ; the half-drunken men stolidly looking on during the struggle without rendering assistance. His young mate began to think Thunderbolt was captured, and before proceeding to remount his horse called out, ‘What shall I do?’ ‘Your knife,’ replied the bushranger, ‘Let his bowels out.’ At once the boy’s knife was unsheathed, seeing which, Boniface instantly released his hold and ran for shelter. The bushranger admitted this to have been the narrowest escape from capture he had ever experienced.

“The morning following the conversation just related Thunderbolt rose up early, before we were astir, and rode away up the creek. About an hour after he brought down, a mob of young horses, which he rounded among some large rocks near our camp. Pointing to a high-bred animal, be said, ‘I want that one,’ and with a little trouble he had him roped and saddled. The horse, which had never before been tackled, he proceeded to mount, when it bucked in a most furious manner until completely exhausted. Thunderbolt then riding off on it, leading another horse. The thought possessed me for a moment to capture the bushranger, and the opportunity was a good one, for he was most careless and confiding ; but I felt unable to betray the confidence be seemed to repose in us. On an after-occasion, when meeting him at Puddledock, the same thought possessed me respecting his capture, and the same feeling of reluctance to betray one so confiding prevented me. The thought and object of his life must have been to elude capture, and I am inclined to think, from the recklessness he showed in encountering the police at Kentucky Creek, that he rather courted death than shunned it.”

The Captain Thunderbolt Conspiracy (Opinion) 


Many figures in the pantheon of bushranging have been the subject of speculation and agenda pushing, but one of the most significant that has emerged in recent years is the conspiracy theories around Captain Thunderbolt. The theory is that the man shot by Constable Walker on that fateful day in 1870 was not Frederick Wordsworth Ward, but his uncle Harry Ward and the government has been trying to cover up the mis-identification ever since. Belief in the theory is so strong that applications were filed for the release of documents by back-benchers to try and prove once and for all that the wrong Ward was killed and documentarians have even gone on trips to North America to investigate claims that the real Thunderbolt was buried there.


This theory provided the basis for the book Scourge of the Ranges; a novel by G. James Hamilton, that claims to be based entirely on fact though it is published as a fiction book. Of course there’s got to be a certain deviousness in publishing a fiction book and promoting it as an exposé of the truth. Such a tactic implies a knowledge on the part of the authors that the proposition is shonky at best and relies almost entirely on readers not fact checking. This is precisely the practice that has made the task of researching history so frustrating for historians both amateur and academic. By creating a false equivalency by conflating rumours and hearsay with unequivocal fact in this book it mocks the intelligence of its audience and obscures the work of historians who spent years collecting the information the multitude takes for granted. But what did Hamilton and Sinclair stand to gain by lying? Well, the obvious answer is money. Only a fool would put months to years worth of hard work into crafting a tome or published work not to turn a profit from it [*ahem*] so that’s low-hanging fruit. The deeper reason may, surprisingly, actually lie in far more altruistic notions.

It is possible that Hamilton and Sinclair had heard of the conspiracy theory and when they started looking into it and finding possible leads wanted to share the information in the hope it could expose an actual cover up. We live in a time when easy access to information has bred deeper distrust of authority than seemingly at any other point in Western history. Gone are the days when the worst that people presumed politicians would get up to was a bit of hanky panky with people they shouldn’t be. That notions like a faked moon landing or that the terrorist bombings in 2001 were staged by the US government to manufacture public consent for an invasion of Afghanistan are fairly common is testament to a new kind of distrust that makes those in power appear almost cartoonishly evil. Here in Australia disliking authority is just par for the course but this new, decidedly American, take on our history has taken it to a whole new level. Many people want to believe that government has always been evil and manipulative. It makes the average person more comfortable in their position in society because they know who to blame for any disadvantage or discomfort they may be subject to. That’s just human nature. It’s the same reason why, in the wake of the Black Saturday fires, people called for Christine Nixon’s head on a plate – it was inconceivable for such a devastating tragedy to have occurred without someone being at fault. It’s also the reason that the town of Salem was almost wiped out as a result of witch hunts (actual witch hunts, not muck-raking) as people blamed anything unpleasant that they couldn’t explain on individuals that they accused of having supernatural abilities. To cater to the lack of trust people have in pursuit of uncovering the truth certainly seems noble, but in this case it doesn’t appear that it’s likely to have been the motivation to create this book. Rather, the controversy the book has created has done more to cement Hamilton’s and Sinclair’s names in the annals of bushranger history than it has to uncovering any dirty secrets.

In the end, if you do your research you will uncover the fact that Ward’s body was positively identified and there was no motivation for a cover up. Ward’s reputation as the great highwayman hero is mostly due to oral history and poorly researched biographies from the early 20th century that peddled hearsay as fact. Papers of the day openly mocked Ward’s nom de plume as its grandiosity was greatly inverse to the frequently farcical and petty robberies he undertook. The desire to make Ward into an epic Robin Hood figure is the result of a desire for romantic heroes from a community that was faced with considerable drudgery as a matter of course. Were Ward alive today and living an equivalent life of crime he may be considered the most prolific robber of 7-11s in Australia. The frequency with which Ward’s accomplices would take their leave of him says a lot about the danger of the occupation of being Thunderbolt’s accomplice compared to the benefits. Ward’s longevity came from a knack for keeping a low-profile for long stretches and often having faster horses than his confederates, including his common-law wife Mary Ann Bugg who was often nabbed while attempting to flee with Ward. To put it bluntly, Captain Thunderbolt did not escape his death and flee to America. He was fatally wounded in Kentucky Creek and died alone in the dark, crawling into the bush and his remains were identified by people that knew him and was not enough of a menace to society to require the New South Wales government to spend over a century covering up a mistaken identity. He left behind young children and an estranged wife as well as a colourful legacy that is, frankly, inverse to the reputation he deserves thanks to the dramatic moniker he gave himself. What it all boils down to is that people will choose to believe the lies because they create a bit of excitement and intrigue around the people, time, and place that is otherwise lacking. The romantic image of Thunderbolt on horseback creates a spark of inspiration that has, in a way, helped to unify a community. It is for this reason that the myths of Thunderbolt are valuable to our folklore and culture but when the myths are not separated from fact the flow on effects can be damaging for posterity and our understanding of not only ourselves but also our society. Distrust in authority can be healthy but when people are encouraged to disregard inconvenient truths that don’t sit well with their chosen narrative, justice is usually the next thing to be tossed aside.

Further reading:








Spotlight: Captain Thunderbolt by Slim Dusty

When we think of bush ballads and Australian folk songs, there’s really only two voices that jump to mind: John Williamson and Slim Dusty. Here, Slim sings about Captain Thunderbolt painting a colourful portrait of the bandit by contrasting him and his exploits with the land itself, concentrating on his lookout – Thunderbolt’s Rocks.


Captain Thunderbolt

West of Uralla in wild mountain ranges,
Where frost devils swaddle the landscape in white
Where long grasses wilt in the cold autumn changes,
And woodfires at evening in homesteads burn bright

Where sunrise breaks red like a wound that is bleeding,
The hills of New England lie misty and dim
By the highway where modern day vehicles are speeding,
Thunderbolts lookout rears rugged and grim

Bushranger bold like a hawk in its eyrie,
Scanning the road for the mounted pursuit
Cynically watching for police tired and weary,
Seeking the mail coach in search of its loot
Plundering while baffled the troopers debated,
Easily evading the ambush they lay
Swift to the cave where the dark woman waited,

Where sunrise breaks red like a wound that is bleeding,
The hills lie all misty and dim
By the highway where modern day vehicles are speeding,
Thunderbolt’s lookout rears rugged and grim

Was he a brave hero or scoundrel defiant?,
Taking and heeding the pathway to crime
Kneeling to know God or Devil suppliant,
Shot like a dog in the waterhole slime
Only a name now for history’s researchers,
Living forever in legend and tales
Bushman still claim on the old lookout perches,
Thunderbolts ghost as the evening grows pale

Where sunrise breaks red like a wound that is bleeding,
The hills lie all misty and dim
By the highway where modern day vehicles are speeding,
Thunderbolt’s lookout rears rugged and grim

Captain Thunderbolt: An Overview


*** Revised and Updated, 2022 ***

Frederick Wordsworth Ward has gone down in Australian history as the quintessential bushranger. Gentlemanly, daring, and a skilled horseman and bushman, he operated under the alias of Captain Thunderbolt until his death in 1870.

Frederick Wordsworth Ward was born near Wilberforce in New South Wales in around 1834. Fred Ward was the youngest of the eleven children of ex-convict Michael Ward and free settler Sophia. When Fred was still young the family moved from Wilberforce to Maitland, and at age eleven he worked as a station hand at Aberbaldie Station in New England. From these early days, Fred had a passion for all things equine, and he had already developed bush skills that would serve him well in years to come. He spent the bulk of his adolescence working at various stations including the renowned horse stud Tocal Station.

Through early 1856 a huge theft of horses and cattle was made from Tocal and surrounding stations. Fred Ward was spotted helping his nephew John Garbutt, who had been using aliases to employ auctioneers to sell stolen horses and cattle. It was widely believed at the time that many of the Ward and Garbutt siblings were in on the crimes, engaged in wholesale horse and cattle theft. In fact, James’ brother John Garbutt, who was considered the ringleader, was sentenced to ten years hard labour in June of that year over his involvement. Ward was nabbed and held in Maitland Gaol until his trial. When he finally went to court with James Garbutt on 13 August 1856, it was on a charge of having stolen sixty horses from William Zuill, fifteen horses from Charles Reynolds, and a second charge of knowingly receiving stolen goods. This got him his first and only conviction: ten years hard labour to be served on Cockatoo Island.

After four years in prison, in 1860 Ward earned himself a Ticket-of-Leave that allowed him to work within the Mudgee district. However he was required to attend a parole muster every three months as part of the conditions of his ticket. This was when he met the charming Mary Ann Bugg, a well-educated half-Aboriginal woman who was married to a squatter. The marriage didn’t seem to bother the pair much as evidenced by the fact that soon Mary Ann was pregnant to Ward. He decided to take her back to her father near Dungog for the birth, which was an unfortunate decision as not only did this require him to leave his district, it resulted in him arriving late to his muster and thus violating the ticket of leave. Moreover, in his rush to get to the muster, Ward had pinched a horse to get him there. Needless to say this combination resulted in Ward back on Cockatoo Island, with an extra three years for the stolen horse to boot.
During his re-internment he was informed that he had to remain imprisoned for the entire duration of the sentence — a total of seven years — with no option to obtain a Ticket-of-Leave due to new regulations. Ward was subsequently involved in a prison riot. Unwilling to ride out his sentence in penal servitude, Ward conspired with a fellow inmate, highwayman Frederick Britten, to escape.

Absconding on 11 September 1863, Ward and Britten managed to breach the prison walls and swim to Woolwich. Some claimed that Mary Ann was there to help but she was accounted for elsewhere at the time. Ward would never again see the inside of a prison.
Taking to the bush, Ward and Britten began committing highway robberies around New England. With word of the crimes reaching authorities came a reward of £25 offered for their capture, and with it was an increase in search parties. Inevitably the bushrangers were spotted by a search party near the Big Rock — nowadays known as Thunderbolt’s Rock — outside of Uralla and a conflict arose. Ward was shot in the back of the left knee as they escaped, but even with this injury the police could not keep up. They followed him into the rock but only managed to collect some of his supplies.

Fred Ward, aka Captain Thunderbolt

Soon the pair went their own ways and Ward began calling himself Captain Thunderbolt, possibly as a homage to a British highwayman who used the same moniker. One story goes that late one night Ward robbed a toll-keeper at Rutherford who responded that the bushranger’s bashing on his door sounded like thunder. It is said Ward presented a pistol and introduced himself, “I am the thunder and this is my bolt.”
He reunited with Mary Ann and, leaving her children with family, they kept a low profile throughout much of 1864 in the Bourke district of New South Wales. By the end of the year, however, Ward teamed up with three other desperadoes: Thomas “The Bull” Hogan, McIntosh (AKA “The Scotsman”) and John Thompson. The gang committed robberies around Bourke, Walgett, Barraba and Narrabri but in April 1865 things fell apart. During a robbery at the Boggy Creek Inn in Millie, the gang, carousing and already slightly intoxicated from a previous raid, were interrupted by a party of police in bush clothes. A gunfight ensued during which Constable Dalton was shot and wounded through the body, and Thompson was shot through the jaw and captured. Both survived their injuries. As for the others, they fled to Queensland to avoid the increased police presence with McIntosh seemingly vanishing and Hogan getting himself arrested after a drunken spree.

In a corner on the Macintyre (aka Thunderbolt at Paradise Creek), by Tom Roberts (1895) [Source]

Thunderbolt was on his own again and now more robberies were committed around Collarendabry and Liverpool Plains before a daring raid on the township of Quirindi on 8 December 1865. Thunderbolt was now accompanied by two men and they committed various robberies in town before rounding up the locals in the pub for singing and dancing. They evacuated just before a party of police arrived to chase them. The bushrangers returned the following day and did it all again.

Realising that he again faced operating alone, Ward had recruited Jemmy “the Whisperer” and Patrick Kelly. While undertaking a raid at the Carroll Inn a few days after the Quirindi caper, Jemmy shot and wounded Senior Constable Lang in yet another gunfight. This iteration of the gang did not last long and was disbanded in early 1866, whereupon Ward took Mary Ann to the Gloucester district where she was soon arrested for vagrancy and imprisoned, but was later liberated by the Governor after protests from the public.
With the new Felons Apprehension Act in place, and pressure from the public on the police force to put an end to bushranging, more search parties were sent out after Thunderbolt. Despite police and bounty hunters being hot on his tail, Ward continued his depredations.

Portrait of Frederick Ward alias Thunderbolt, by Shallard Gibbs (The Illustrated Sydney News, Vol. V, No. 75, 8 June 1870, p. 405) [Source]

On 25 May 1867 a Proclamation was made announcing a reward of £200 for the capture of Thunderbolt. At around the same time Ward recruited teenager Thomas Mason and they robbed coaches, inns and stations until Mason was nabbed after a horseback chase in September of that year. He was subsequently convicted at Tamworth and given three years hard labour. Around this time Mary Ann was also nabbed for possession of stolen goods and imprisoned.

Desperate for company, Ward took up with a married, part-Aboriginal woman named Louisa Mason, also known as “Yellow Long”, who accompanied him on his robberies but died of pneumonia at Denman on 24 November 1867.
After this turn of events Ward went back to Mary Ann who was now at liberty again. Soon Mary Ann was pregnant to Ward with their third child, and they both knew that a life on the road was not suited to her condition, so they separated for the last time. In August 1868 Mary Ann bore Ward a son whom she named Frederick Wordsworth Ward junior.

Ward continued his epic tally of crimes during 1868, this time with a young lad named William Monckton, who had joined Ward after running away from home. One of their most renowned adventures during this period was when they bailed up Wirth’s band at Tenterfield on 19 March 1868. As the story goes, Thunderbolt and his sidekick stuck up the travelling German band and were displeased with the mere £16 takings from the robbery, so Thunderbolt ordered them to perform for him for several hours. When the musicians complained about how poor they were, Thunderbolt took down a postal address and promised to send them the money back when he had more, which he supposedly did some months later.
The reward for Ward’s capture was raised to £400 just in time for Christmas 1868. While it was a fraction of what had been offered for his peers Dan Morgan, Ben Hall, Johnny Gilbert, John Dunn, and the Clarkes and Connells, it was still an enormous amount to the average settler of the 1860s.

Ward and Monckton split in December 1868 and Monckton found work at Wellingrove Station. He got himself into trouble over some minor offences after leaving Ward, and was eventually recognised as Ward’s accomplice and tried in 1869. He was sentenced to serve six years hard labour, the first year in Darlinghurst Gaol, the rest in a reformatory.
After the split, Ward went quiet and would not make any notable appearances until he began to undertake intermittent mail robberies in New England. When he did appear he was alone. He would never take on any other accomplices ever again.

Death of Thunderbolt, The Bushranger by Samuel Calvert, (Illustrated Australian News, June 18, 1870)

On 25 May 1870, Ward was spotted near Blanch’s Inn near Uralla by two constables responding to a complaint about an Italian hawker having been robbed. Fleeing on horseback, Ward was pursued by Constable Alex Walker and engaged in a riding gunfight for almost an hour. Ward’s horse was shot dead and he attempted to cross Kentucky Creek on foot. Walker rode into the stream, shot Ward in the chest and clubbed him with his revolver until he was unresponsive. Walker dragged Ward onto land and rode back to the inn. The next day he and his partner rode back to retrieve the body.
The corpse was taken to the courthouse, identified and autopsied. Photographs were taken post mortem to help establish the identity in the event that decomposition began to take hold before a positive identification could be recorded. One of the people that positively identified Ward was his former sidekick Monckton who had been released after serving the first year of his sentence. Ward was buried in the local cemetery.

Cadaver of Frederick Ward, the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, by A. Cunningham, Armidale (1870) [Source]

Despite Ward’s body being positively identified, rumours were started posthumously that it was not actually him, and moreover that there was a government conspiracy to cover up the fact that he had actually escaped. The stories of Ward’s survival have been frequently debunked, but to the minority that choose to believe the folklore over the history the facts are not enough to prove them wrong.
While other bushrangers have been somewhat lionised for having never taken life, Thunderbolt conducted himself in such a way that his largely non-violent career is far more laudable. This is perhaps reflected in the way that despite his innumerable robberies, the reward for his capture was so comparably low when measured against other bushrangers. He seemed to be viewed more as a nuisance than a threat. This has helped considerably in fostering the image of Thunderbolt as a “gentleman bushranger”.

New England Highway and Thunderbolts Way, Uralla, NSW, By C. Goodwin (2008) [Source]

Further Reading:

The Captain and his Lady by Carol Baxter

Three years with Thunderbolt: being the narrative of William Monckton, who for three years attended the famous outlaw, Frederick Ward, better known as Captain Thunderbolt, as servant, companion and intimate friend: during which period he shared the bushranger’s crimes and perils and was twice severely wounded in encounters with the police edited by Ambrose Pratt

Captain Thunderbolt by Annie Louise Rixon

Riding with Thunderbolt : the diary of Ben Cross, Northern New South Wales, 1865​ by Allan Baillie

Captain Thunderbolt and Mary Ann Bugg : history, myth, legend and the ethical responsibility of the story teller​ by Warwick Hastie.

Captain Thunderbolt : horsebreaker to bushranger​ by David Brouwer

Captain Thunderbolt, bushranger by Robin Walker