Captain Thunderbolt – 1863

By | November 12, 2016

Mary Ann swam across shark-infested waters to rescue her husband.


Captain Thunderbolt’s grave at Uralla in New South Wales


Frederick Wordsworth Ward was born at Wilberforce, New South Wales, Australia probably on 15 May 1833. He was the youngest of ten children of a convict transported in 1815.

He began working with horses honestly before he was tempted to join his elder brother William in a plot to steal and sell them. Caught, he was sentenced to ten years’ hard labour at Cockatoo Island prison in Sydney. On 1 July 1860 he was freed having served four years and went to his mother’s home at Cooyal Station near Mudgee. That same year “he met and fell in love with a remarkably beautiful half-caste woman known as Mary Ann Bugg”. They married, her second marriage, in 1860. As part of his release he had to report to a police station and one day in September 1861 he borrowed a horse and rode to Mudgee. On arrival he discovered his probation had been rescinded and he was accused of stealing the horse he was riding. He was returned to prison to complete his sentence with a punitive four years added to his tariff. A fortnight later on 26 October 1861, Mary Ann gave birth to their first child, Marina Emily.

On 11 September 1863 Mary Ann swam across the shark-infested waters surrounding Cockatoo Island, laden down with jail-breaking tools, to rescue her husband. Ward, Mary Ann and another prisoner, Fred Britten, swam back to freedom. A reward of £50 was offered for their capture. Over the next six and a half years, the couple — he was known by then as Captain Thunderbolt —perpetrated more than 200 crimes in northern New South Wales. Their villainy included stealing horses and highway robbery. The first robbery was on 21 December 1863 when Ward held up the toll bar house at Campbell’s Hill between Rutherford and Maitland. In March 1864 the police arrested Mary Ann but her husband staged a daring rescue mission. However, she was soon again arrested and convicted under the Vagrancy Act. Sentenced to six months inprisonment, Mary Arm was released after two months because she was pregnant. On 25 March 1866 she was again arrested and sentenced to another six months inprisonment for vagrancy. Released, she was again arrested on 6 January 1867. While incarcerated, her husband committed a robbery while drunk.


Cockatoo Island, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


Friday 11 September 1863


Mary Ann died on 17 November 1867 from “acute inflammation of the lungs”. On 25 May 1870, Ward committed two robberies and one of his victims went to the police. Senior Constable John Mulhall and Constable Alexander Walker set off in search of Captain Thunderbolt. A fight ensued between Ward and Constable Walker during which the policeman shot Ward in the chest. He died early the next day. Constable Walker received a £400 reward and promotion.


Captain Thunderbolt rarely shot at his police pursuers and usually had just one bullet in his gun. He preferred using the speed of his horse to get him out of trouble.

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