The gentleman robber who mourned at his own funeral

Descendant tells what really happened to Australia's Robin Hood

A Robin-Hood-style figure who helped the poor and oppressed, Frederick Ward was nicknamed the "gentleman bushranger" because he never used violence and was always polite to his victims. In 1870 Ward – or Captain Thunderbolt, as he was also known – was shot dead by police near Uralla, in northern New South Wales. Or was he?

A new book written by one of Thunderbolt's descendants claims that the man buried in the cemetery at Uralla is not Ward, but his uncle, Harry. Ward himself escaped to the Californian goldfields and then settled in Canada, where he lived a quiet life before dying in 1903, his family believe.

Barry Sinclair, whose great-great-grandmother was the bushranger's mother, claims in his book, Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges, that police quickly realised they had killed the wrong man but concealed their mistake – a cover-up that has continued for 140 years.

Thunderbolt roamed northern New South Wales for six years, stealing from properties and holding up mail coaches. Once, he and a partner held up an inn near the town of Gunnedah, then danced and drank until police arrived.

Eventually, so the story goes, he was cornered at a creek outside Uralla by a zealous young constable, Alexander Binney Walker. Mr Sinclair believes that Walker, who was shot at during the pursuit, knew he had the wrong man.

"Fred Ward had never shot at the police at any time in his career, so Walker knew straight away that it was not Thunderbolt," he said. Walker then hid his victim's body, according to Mr Sinclair. When it was found by senior police, they knew immediately that the dead man was not Thunderbolt, but his uncle, another fugitive from justice.

To cover up their mistake, they offered one of Ward's former accomplices, Will Monckton, an early release from jail in exchange for identifying the body as Ward's. The funeral went ahead, and was attended by a tall woman dressed in black, whose face was hidden by a veil, and who walked with a manly gait. Ward's family believe it was the bushranger, come to pay final respects to his uncle before slipping out of the country.

The author said police were under pressure to kill the charismatic Ward because the authorities feared he might inspire a revolution. "It was not long after the Eureka Stockade [a popular uprising on the Victorian goldfields], and there was a lot of civil unrest at that time against the British establishment."

Mr Sinclair said that Thunderbolt, who gave away much of the money he stole, had a lot of local support. "Women would hang out red sheets to let him know the police were around, or white sheets to say, 'You're OK, come in and have a meal.'"

Ward was once imprisoned on Cockatoo Island, in Sydney Harbour, but escaped with the help of his wife, Mary Ann Bugg, who swam out to the island. The couple had four children together, despite being constantly on the run.

The leader of the National Party in New South Wales, Andrew Stoner, called on the state government to release all official paperwork on the case. As the Thunderbolt story was part of Australian folklore, he said, "it's in the best interests of our democracy and good government to break through the wall of silence".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory