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Frederick (Fred) Ward (1835–1870)

by Victor Crittenden

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Frederick Ward, by Samuel Calvert

Frederick Ward, by Samuel Calvert

State Library of Victoria, IAN18/06/70/116

Frederick Ward (1835-1870), bushranger, alias 'Captain Thunderbolt', was born at Windsor, New South Wales. He was working as a drover and horse-breaker at Tocal station on the Paterson River when arrested with James Garbutt and indicted for stealing and receiving seventy-five horses at Maitland on 21 April 1856; Ward was sentenced to ten years' hard labour on 13 August on the receiving charge.

Released conditionally from Cockatoo Island late in July 1860, Ward worked as a horse-breaker at Cooyal near Mudgee until his ticket-of-leave was cancelled on 17 September 1861 for 'absence from Muster' and he was tried on 3 October for horse-stealing. Returned to Cockatoo Island to complete his original sentence with an additional three years, Ward escaped with Frederick Brittain about 11 September 1863. In 1864-65 Ward lived quietly with his Aboriginal 'wife', Mary Ann, née Bugg, on the Culgoa River near Bourke with two children. He adopted the name 'Captain Thunderbolt' in the early 1860s. He carried out a series of armed robberies near Bourke with three associates, including a 16-year-old boy John Thomson, who was shot and captured by the police at Millie near Moree. Ward and two others robbed inns and mail-coaches in the Liverpool Plains District; in December 1865 at Caroll near Gunnedah they held up an inn and danced and drank until the police arrived. They wounded a policeman and escaped, abandoning three pack-horses. Ward separated from his companions and never again made a stand when the police approached.

Alone, with a reward of £200 on his head, Ward held up mailmen and on 3 February 1867 was almost captured while drunk near Manilla. He took an accomplice Thomas Mason, a 16-year-old orphan, with whom he robbed the mails in the New England and Upper Hunter areas as well as the Liverpool Plains District. While hiding out in the Borah ranges they became separated, Mason was captured in August and convicted of highway robbery. Mary Ann followed Ward whenever possible; at Stroud in March 1866 she had been sentenced to six months for vagrancy but was released in April, because the conviction was not accurately drawn up.

Ward's next companion was William Monckton, a 13-year-old runaway, with whom he robbed travellers and the mails in the New England area. Late in 1868 Monckton abandoned Ward who then worked alone and less actively; on 25 May 1870 he was surprised while testing an inferior horse and was chased and shot by Constable Alexander Binney Walker at Kentucky Creek near Uralla. A Protestant, he was buried in Uralla cemetery without religious rites.

Ward was 5 ft 8 ¼ ins (173 cm) tall, slight, and of sallow complexion with hazel-grey eyes and light-brown curly hair. He undoubtedly had great nerve, endurance and unusual self-reliance and his success as a bushranger can be largely attributed to his horsemanship and splendid mounts, to popular sympathy inspired by his agreeable appearance and conversation, and to his gentlemanly behaviour and avoidance of violence; he also showed prudence in not robbing armed coaches, or towns where a policeman was stationed. The last of the professional bushrangers in New South Wales, Ward was the most successful.

Select Bibliography

  • A. R. Macleod, The Transformation of Manellae (Manilla, 1949)
  • R. B. Walker, ‘Captain Thunderbolt, bushranger’, JRAHS, 43 (1957)
  • Maitland Mercury, 22 May, 14 Aug 1856, 11 Feb 1868
  • Mudgee Liberal, 27 Sept, 11 Oct 1861
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Sept 1863, 3 May, 28 Dec 1865, 1 June 1870, 1 Apr 1929
  • Armidale Express, 16 Feb 1867
  • Town and Country Journal, 4 June 1870
  • information from State Records New South Wales.

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Victor Crittenden, 'Ward, Frederick (Fred) (1835–1870)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frederick Ward, by Samuel Calvert

Frederick Ward, by Samuel Calvert

State Library of Victoria, IAN18/06/70/116

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Thunderbolt, Captain

Windsor, New South Wales, Australia


25 May, 1870 (aged ~ 35)
Kentucky Creek, Uralla, New South Wales, Australia

Passenger Ship
Key Places