In truth, Fred had an eye for a quick buck as well as a good horse, and he willingly joined forces with his con-man nephew, John Garbutt.
Garbutt was a blond-haired, blue-eyed charmer who decided that horse-stealing was more lucrative than station work. After a Queensland warrant was put out for his arrest in 1855, he fled south to the Hunter Valley district where he committed four large-scale horse and cattle thefts. For his fifth bold plan, he enticed his Ward relatives to join him.
In March 1856, Fred offered his services to assist in a cattle muster at Tocal station on the Paterson River, which was also New South Wales’ pre-eminent horse stud. A few weeks later some four dozen horses were stolen from Tocal and neighbouring Bellevue station. In the aftermath, the horses were hidden for around ten days at the nearby Lambs Valley farm of Fred’s brother William Ward. John Garbutt then decided to drive the stolen horses south to the markets at Windsor. Fred accompanied them, but he, Garbutt, and the horses’ brands were recognised.
Fred and his nephews, John and James Garbutt, ended up at the brutal Cockatoo Island penal settlement. Fred’s two surviving brothers were fortunate enough to escape the law’s clutches: William Ward was committed but never brought to trial while Joshua went a-droving before charges were laid against him.
Fred and his Garbutt nephews worked hard and behaved well so after serving only four years of their ten-year sentences they were granted the colonial equivalent of a parole pass to the Mudgee district. There the 26-year-old John Garbutt managed to charm – and marry – the 42 year-old widowed heiress of Cooyal inn and station. There, probably on the wedding day, Fred met his famed lover, Mary Ann Bugg.
For one crime or another, the trio ended up back on Cockatoo Island. James Garbutt served the longest term on the island and struggled in the aftermath: drunkenness, petty thievery and, eventually, an inability to keep his pecker in his pants. Between 1879 and 1902, he served five gaol terms for “exposing his person” or “indecent assault”. Ironically, his abandoned daughters were arrested under the Industrial Schools Act in 1874 and admitted to the newly-established girls’ home on Biloela, the recently renamed Cockatoo Island. Taking a leaf from her great-uncle’s book, one of the girls escaped from the island a few years later.
John Garbutt’s charmed life continued until 1862 when a tumble from a horse led to brain damage and soon afterwards another conviction for livestock theft. Although the Mudgee doctors had claimed that he was fit to stand trial, the Darlinghurst gaol authorities disagreed and shunted him off to the Parramatta Psychiatric Institution. There the doctors diagnosed a “delusional mania”. Medical reports noted that he expressed a constant terror of imaginary persons and particularly of “blackfellows”, that he would remain naked day and night wearing only a pair of stockings and would hide under a bed or in a corner if people approached him, that he was frequently sullen and morose, refusing to speak to those about him and even refusing food which had to be administered forcibly.
Garbutt made a remarkable recovery in the early 1870s and was eventually released to the care of his wife, but soon drifted north to Queensland. In September 1873 at Taroom near Roma, Queensland, he murdered a travelling companion, Thomas Conroy, by axing the man while he slept and burning the body. Garbutt was executed at Brisbane Gaol on 10 March 1874. No one realised that the “Taroom murderer” was Captain Thunderbolt’s nephew, let alone that he was the man whose bold plans first enticed the young horsebreaker onto the criminal footpath.
James and John Garbutt were the sons of Fred’s elder sister, Sarah Ann Ward. Some have claimed that Sarah was Fred’s mother (see Was Frederick Ward the son of his “sister”?), however these claims are easily disproved – fortunately for Sarah. If she had indeed been Fred’s mother, she would have managed the ignoble achievement of giving birth to a gunned-down bushranger, a rapist, and an executed murderer. What a hat-trick!
For detailed information about Fred Ward’s pre-bushranging days, see Timeline: 1835-1863