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
Life and Style
love + sex
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Sport
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all