2 August 14
While exploring northern NSW we stopped to check out one of the hideouts of Frederick Ward — a famous outlaw from the mid-1800s who gave himself the more exciting name of “Captain Thunderbolt”. Although it’s little more than a crack between several rocks, the shelter is easily accessible from Mt Lindsay Road, and the historic site arouses discussion of times before motorised transport, what’s needed for survival in the Australian bush and how law-enforcement practices have evolved to present-day methods.
Australia has romanticised its outlaws, and while Ward/Captain Thunderbolt is considered NSW’s most successful bushranger, he still isn’t as famous as Victoria’s Ned Kelly. Ward was originally convicted of receiving stolen horses and absconded from custody on Cockatoo Island — the island penitentiary in Sydney harbour — to further his career in bushranging. Despite the many horses he stole and the coaches he successfully robbed, Captain Thunderbolt gained a reputation as a “gentleman” because he declined to shoot at law enforcement officers and on more than one occasion left coach passengers’ purses intact while stealing only the official mailbag.
I grew up with stories of Captain Thunderbolt because — as the family legend goes — my great-(however many times)-great-grandfather worked as a blacksmith at Liston, a little village up the road from Thunderbolt’s hideout and — well, it’s not a legend if it isn’t a bit unbelievable — the story I heard was that he shod Ward’s horses backwards. (The first horseshoe was put on normally, and a second horseshoe was put over that in a reversing direction.) This way, the horseshoe prints would make it appear that Ward was riding in the opposite direction to the way he was actually travelling. I don’t know if I believe the family legend, but it makes for a good story, and — coupled with the idea of spending a night in Thunderbolt’s hideout with the girls when they’re older (and the weather is more mild) — it’s one worth passing on!