Captain Thunderbolt: Australia's "Lone Bushranger"

Topics: Bushranger, Captain Thunderbolt, Mary Ann Bugg Pages: 6 (2194 words) Published: March 16, 2011
The Thunderbolt legend lives on most strongly in the New England district of northern New South Wales and especially around Uralla. Of all the bushrangers who engaged in their illegal and often colourful careers in Australia during the first 100 years of white settlement, Thunderbolt, hero or horse thief, was at large for probably the longest period.

For almost six years and six months Frederick Ward, known as Captain Thunderbolt, was pursued by regular mounted Police, specially commissioned bounty hunters and enlisted Aboriginal trackers.

Everything about Ward was unconventional, especially his choice of an attractive part Aboriginal wife, Mary Ann Bugg, who could rightly be said to be largely responsible for the rampage they embarked upon and their having four children while he was a bushranger. Without the influence of Mary Ann there would be no "Captain Thunderbolt". He was wrongly jailed twice, and sentenced to work gangs on Sydney's scandal-ridden Cockatoo Island. His brazen escape, organised by his wife Mary Ann, launched them on a career of plunder and defiance of laws they considered corrupt. Defying convention, their bushranging was social disobedience; a form of political dissent. It amassed for them a cult following by oppressed, dirt-poor farmers, and his popularity grew to become a threat to the very authority of the Crown. The reaction, as at Eureka, was to strike a brutal blow designed to remove the threat permanently, by assassinating him. But the assassination back-fired as Constable Walker shot the wrong man, and the embarrassed system of government at the time was forced to choose between social anarchy or one of the most bizarre cover-ups in Australian Police history, one that endures to this day.

Was Frederick Wards bushranging career typical of those bushrangers of that time?…


The term “Bushranger” has definitely changed over the years. In the very early years, it simply referred to good bush men who possessed the horsemanship, hunting, and survival skills needed for living in the Australian bush, or wild, after they fled Australia’s prison colonies. Now, the term is used to refer to criminals who attacked travellers on the road in the bush. It’s impossible to say just how many bushrangers walked Australia’s bush, although there had to be hundreds. This was partly because many of them received very little attention from the outside world at all. As long as they left people alone, nobody really cared about what they did. Prison records show that these men were arrested for crimes like 'robbery under arms' or 'highway robbery'. Australia was originally colonized largely by English criminals. These criminals were sentenced to seven years of hard labour in Australia to help build the new colony. They were sent partly because it was cheaper than buying slaves to do the work and because England’s prisons were overcrowded. These criminals would often escape and go back to steal from the freemen.

The second major contributing factor to bushranging was the Victorian Gold rush that occurred in the 1850s and 1860s. There was a massive exodus from the inhabited coastal regions as people moved into the ranges to search for gold. This meant that traffic on the early roads like Orange and Turon in New South Wales and Ballarat in Victoria increased. Since there were no banks on the goldfield, every man carried his gold on his body. The more successful a man was, the bigger a target he became. Many miners were robbed or killed. Bushrangers would rob people on the roads near the gold fields or raid the properties of wealthy squatters. The police had a hard time keeping up with them so the people had no faith in them. Some would even resign to go after the gold, leaving new recruits to figure out what to do. It was so bad that newspapers at the time ran cartoons portraying police as bumbling idiots.

Bushrangers typically dressed in very cheap,...
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