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Frederick Wordsworth Ward a.k.a. Captain Thunderbolt

Home > New South Wales > Free | Lookouts | Misc | Nature | Parks
by Susan J Bowes (subscribe)
Writing for pleasure to showcase the best Australia has on offer.
Published May 5th 2023
Notorious Captain Thunderbolt, Yet Gentleman Bushranger
There is no doubt that bushrangers made an impact on the lives of so many in the 1850s and 1860s, whether for a good reason or bad, yet the history of those who crossed the land on horseback, robbed from banks and the rich have gained a historic statue in folklore and books in modern times.

History, Bushrangers, Torrington, Nature, Learn Something, Misc, NSW, Tenterfield
Captain Thunderbolt hid in many rocky mountains in Northern NSW

It is said that over two thousand bushrangers roamed over the Australian countryside, of which the first was mainly convicts who escaped from their tortures, then later those using the bush as a hiding place to get away from law officials and eventually ending the bushranger spree with Ned Kelly at the last stand at Glenrowan. But are modern-day criminals any different, are they merely swapping a horse for a car and most still have the use of a shotgun? If there is to be any truth in the fact that many bushrangers progressed from a life as a convict, then I can understand why they chose this way of life.

History, Bushrangers, Torrington, Nature, Learn Something, Misc, NSW, Tenterfield
The Start of the Uphill Trail to Captain Thunderbolt's Lookout (Author's Photo)

On a recent holiday in the northern New South Wales region, I came across many stories and landmarks associated with the 'gentleman' bushranger Frederick Wordsworth Ward or self-named "Captain Thunderbolt". Thunderbolt was born in 1835, the youngest son of convict Michael Ward and in the earlier part of his life he worked as a station hand on many properties gaining respect as an excellent horseman with buck breaking as one of his important jobs.

History, Bushrangers, Torrington, Nature, Learn Something, Misc, NSW, Tenterfield
Photograph of Captain Thunderbolt's Statue in Uralla NSW (Photo courtesy of Uralla -Things to Do Website

It was his nephews that enticed him to become involved in horse stealing, which ultimately led to him being sent to Cockatoo Island Penal establishment for ten years hard labour. After escaping in September 1863, he lived out the rest of his life as an armed robber, often recruiting children for armed holdups and shoot-outs.

On driving through Torrington in the New South Wales Shire of Tenterfield, I stopped to ask for directions to Thunderbolt's Lookout from an older man riding a pushbike across a gravel road. He was more than happy to relate the story told by his grandmother that Thunderbolt stopped overnight at her place while hiding from police and as the saying goes, Thunderbolt reminded her that he was never there! Whether this is a true account or not, this gent was not sure, but this story still provided an added interest to my quest on learning more about Captain Thunderbolt.

History, Bushrangers, Torrington, Nature, Learn Something, Misc, NSW, Tenterfield
Nomads Park in Torrington State Forest (Author's Photo)

Heading off the small bitumen road and onto a rough gravel track, I made my way to Nomads Park, when the trek to Thunderbolt's Lookout begins. Part of the nine hundred and fifty-metre track consists of sandy gravel with potholes ascending to the rocky mountains above. There are several areas where climbing over rock steps and copper logs set into the rocky mountain was required, then crawling through smaller areas of towering boulder rocks to a ledge before climbing further up a very steep metal ladder and onto the lookout. Stopping at several levels, I could see the advantage points of view where Thunderbolt would have been able to notice those who were chasing him.

History, Bushrangers, Torrington, Nature, Learn Something, Misc, NSW, Tenterfield
One of the many viewing Points overlooking the ground below (Author's Photo)

Today these paths have been constructed so the hiker can reach the top; however, I truly felt sorry for the horses climbing the mountains as well as carrying the heavy weight of Thunderbolt and possibly loot as well.

History, Bushrangers, Torrington, Nature, Learn Something, Misc, NSW, Tenterfield
Man made walking trails for the hiker (Author's Photo)

As told to me by the gent in Torrington, Thunderbolt had many hiding places throughout northern New South Wales as he roamed far and wide and that I would come across other towns and places that received recognition in history for his presence.

History, Bushrangers, Travel, Nature, Learn Something, Misc, NSW, Tenterfield
Sign on Mt Lindesay Highway (Author's Photo)

One such place is Thunderbolt's Hideout just outside of Tenterfield on the Mt Lindesay Highway. This is signposted on the highway; however, websites say it is closed as an enormous tree has fallen across the path. I was told that tourists had made a path around the tree and on venturing to the site, this was correct. It had rained recently in the area, so part of the sandy path was slippery, and care was required to manoeuvre around the base of the tree to continue on the path and reach the cave between two large rock boulders. One can only imagine what it must have been like to set up camp in a darkened cave while always on the lookout for police officials.

History, Bushrangers, Travel, Nature, Learn Something, Misc, NSW, Tenterfield
Thunderbolt's Hideout, Mt Lindesay Highway (Author's Photo)

However, on 25 May 1870, Frederick Wordsworth Ward, a.k.a. Captain Thunderbolt was shot dead by Constable Alexander Walker at Kentucky Creek, Uralla. A large statue of the gentleman bushranger on his horse can be seen at the intersection of the New England Highway and Thunderbolts Way, in Uralla, New South Wales
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Phone: Uralla, Tenterfield, NSW Visitor Information Centres
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Your Comment
There's some interesting history there Susan. I think like many of our famous bush-rangers Captain Thunderbolt ending up being larger than life.
by Gayle Beveridge-Marien (score: 4|10579) 2 days ago
Very informative article Susan. You would have thought that the police should have tracked Captain Thunderbolt sooner with all the signs pointing to his hideout.
by Neil Follett (score: 3|4730) 28 days ago
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