The saga began in 2009 when I was undertaking research for my book, Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady: the true story of Frederick Ward and Mary Ann Bugg (Allen & Unwin, 2011). In December of that year I read a Sydney Morning Herald article about the claims made in Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges, that bushranger Thunderbolt had not died in 1870, that he had instead escaped to America and that the government had conspired to cover up the truth. While the book itself was a work of fiction, the author's claimed in the press that the dialogue was fictionalised, etc, but that the whole story was based on fact. I immediately rang my publisher to ask her what to do. I explained that I seen claims like that on the internet but had disproven them in one day of research. She told me, essentially, to button my lips, that all would be revealed when my book was published two years hence.
While undertaking my research, I made contact with Dr David Andrews Roberts of the School of Humanities, University of New England. We discussed the claims made in the Scourge book and he asked me to write a review for the journal he edited, the Journal of Colonial History. He suggested 500 words; I countered with 750. I started writing then asked for more: 1000, 1200, 1500 and finally 2000 words. When he read the eventual review, he commented that there was so much more that could be examined, to which I replied that there was indeed but that he had only asked me to write a review. Then I suggested that perhaps we could write an article together. I had the Thunderbolt knowledge as well as that of the background bushranging period; he knew all about the local politics, local folklore and general history plus he had years of experience writing scholarly articles. We would – and indeed did – make a good team.
The end result was both astonishing and compelling as everyone who has read the article attests. At which point David decided to pitch it to the Journal of Australian Studies, an international peer-reviewed journal. Both reviewers said that it was "excellent!" and the road to publication began. Of course the lead time with journals like these is about a year. Its been a long wait! But its been worth it to see the interest it has generated.
Curiously AAP – and accordingly all the newspapers who have picked up AAPs story – did not talk about the political side of the story, the fact that the NSW Legislative Council gave these conspiracy claims an unwarranted credibility by supporting them in Parliament.
Clearly, there is lots more to come when the journal article itself is published. Stay tuned!