An artist’s impression of Captain Thunderbolt.The origins of the name Captain Thunderbolt are believed to have first been used by Fred Ward during the robbery of Campbell’s toll-bar at the present intersection of the Wollombi Road and the New England Highway at Rutherford.
On December 21, 1863 the innkeeper, a Mr O’Brien, was woken by a knock at the gate.
When he asked who was making the noise the reported reply was: “I am Thunderbolt, the noise I made was the thunder, while this is the bolt [referring to his revolver].”
The robbery and the use of the name Thunderbolt was reported in the Maitland Mercury on December 23, 1863, although that reports that Fred Ward used the name while riding off.
These were the beginnings of a bushranging career, lasting seven years, during which Captain Thunderbolt became the longest roaming bushranger in 19th century Australian history.
Four significant sites relating to the life and death of infamous bushranger Captain Thunderbolt have been added to the State Heritage Register, Heritage Minister Robyn Parker said.
Ms Parker said the sites near Uralla in the state’s north-west, illustrated both the impact of bushranging on mid-19th century NSW and the place Captain Thunderbolt holds in the public’s imagination.
“The exploits of Captain Thunderbolt, aka Fred Ward, were recorded in newspapers of the day and were widely known across NSW,” Ms Parker said.
“The legend of Captain Thunderbolt has been romanticised over the years, helped along by his daring escape from Cockatoo Island in Sydney, his reputation as a ‘gentleman bushranger’ and for evading capture for seven years.
“Thunderbolt claimed he would never steal from someone poorer than himself and was often reported as never having shot anyone – although contemporary newspaper accounts differ.
“His success as a criminal is illustrated by the increasing rewards set out for his capture and despite his crimes he is remembered as the ‘Australian Robin Hood’ rather than a terrifying robber.
“The advent of bushranging led to a widespread expansion of the police force into rural areas and increased security for mail coaches and gold escorts.”
Captain Thunderbolt was born Frederick Ward in 1835 to former convict Michael Ward and his wife Sophia.
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