- A bushranger was shot at Kentucky Creek by Constable Walker on Wednesday 25 May 1870.
- A magisterial inquiry was conducted the following day, Thursday 26 May.
- The purpose of the inquiry was two-fold: to determine the bushranger's identity, and to determine whether his killing was lawful.
- The inquiry took more than six hours to complete according to the newspaper reports. The Thunderbolt conspiracy camp claims that this shows that the witnesses were unable to identify the bushranger: “For the attempt to prove the name of the body to have taken nearly six hours, with so many people giving witness, makes it obvious that they were not able to name the person”.
- In fact, the inquiry took such a long time because the statements of each of the witnesses were written down in a form of shorthand, then these statements had to be written out in longhand so the witnesses could read them (or have them read back to them, if they were illiterate). Afterwards, each witness had to swear that the resulting deposition (that is, a statement made under oath and taken down in writing) reflected their own words, and then, in the presence of a reliable witness, had to sign the deposition itself to that effect. It was a time-consuming process.
- It is also important to remember that contemporary court and newspaper transcripts rarely noted the questions asked of the witnesses; they merely recorded the answers. The result suggests a single stream of narrative, as if the magistrate/judge/barrister asked the witness a question and the witness continued talking until the transcript of their testimony ended, but in fact each sentence of their statement was generally in response to a new question. So the question and answer session for each witness took considerably longer than the trial transcripts indicate.
- Accordingly, the claim that the length of the inquiry "makes it obvious" that the witnesses were unable to identify the dead bushranger is nonsense.
- So what about the actual identification? The Thunderbolt conspiracy camp write:
"Despite the evidence given by various witnesses, the finding of the Jury was that the name of the victim was unknown ..." Also:
"They were not able to name the person, despite the points for identification that should have been on the body. The Police Gazette for Tuesday 13 October, 1863 (front page) gives the following description of Frederick Ward, 'Ward is a native of Windsor, New South Wales; a laborer; 27 years of age 5 feet 8 and a quarter inches high, pale sallow complexion, light brown curley hair, hazel grey eyes, mole on right wrist and two warts on back of middle finger of left hand.' Despite such a comprehensive description, they were not able to be used to identify the body as that of Frederick Ward.”
- Another member of the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp, Pat Lightfoot, wrote: "You haven't done a deep research. For starters the identity of the man was not known on the 25th May or 26th May when the doctor first saw him. No mention of warts and all was mentioned on 26th May the first hearing or identity proven." In an email sent yesterday, 14 February 2012, she declared: "To me and as an archaeologist, the magisterial inquiry or inquest if you like to call it, splitting hairs, was inconclusive".
- In fact, the identification was "most conclusive" as the Armidale Express reported on 28 May 1870: "A magisterial inquiry was held by Mr Buchanan, P.M., when the evidence was most conclusive as to the identification of the body with that of the man Fred Ward, alias Thunderbolt." It is easy to understand why this journalist, who actually attended the inquiry, reported that the identification was "most conclusive" when the testimonies themselves are examined.
- Senior Constable John Mulhall was the first to testify at the inquiry on Thursday 26 May 1870. He concluded his deposition by stating: "I produce the Police Gazette 21 October 1863 in which there is a description of Ward ... height 5 feet 8 and a quarter inches, pale sallow complexion, light brown curly hair, mole right wrist, two warts on the back middle finger of the left hand; I have seen the dead body in the room; I believe the man described in the Gazette is now lying dead in the other room; I believe it is the body of Fred Ward." (For a full copy of his testimony, see When did Fred Ward die?)
- Clearly it does not require "deep research" to determine that the identity of the dead bushranger was indeed known and that the "warts and all" were indeed mentioned at the inquiry on Thursday 26 May 1870.
- Senior Sergeant John George Balls and the medical adviser to the government, Dr Spasshatt, also compared the body with the Gazette notice. Both testified that the descriptions "tallied exactly", with Spasshatt commenting specifically about the mole and warts. Balls also testified that he knew Ward personally while he was an official on Cockatoo Island (a claim supported by independent primary-source records) and "from that knowledge and the Police Gazette I positively identify the deceased as Fred Ward or Thunderbolt".
- Other witnesses testified similarly. Copies of their testimonies are displayed in the myth-debunking piece "When did Fred Ward die?" Significantly, these have been displayed on this website for the six months since August 2011 so it is astonishing that members of the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp are still claiming that "they [the inquiry] were not able to identify the body", or that the identification was "inconclusive".
- Significantly, one identification of Fred Ward aka Thunderbolt is noteworthy by its absence. At no point during his testimony to the magisterial inquiry on 26 May 1870 did Constable Walker identify the dead bushranger as Fred Ward. In fact, he never gave a name to the dead bushranger, merely referring to him as the "bushranger" or the "oldest man" or the "old man" or "he" or the "dead body".
- The Thunderbolt conspiracists in their mouthpiece novel, Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges, suggest that Walker was a maniacal and ruthless careerist driven by the promise of celebrity and reward, that he shot the wrong man, and that he was largely responsible for the error in identifying the dead bushranger as Fred Ward, because he claimed that he had killed Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt, and his superiors, accordingly, sent the news to Sydney where it was published in the press before the truth had been determined.
- The facts are quite different. Firstly, the records show Walker to have been an unassuming man – as those who knew him also attested. Secondly, it was not Walker who testified that the dead bushranger was Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt at the magisterial inquiry on 26 May 1870. Quite the opposite. The body was identified as a consequence of the statements made by the other witnesses: those who either knew Fred personally, or had compared the dead body with the Police Gazette description and noted that the distinctive mole and warts matched, or had been told by the bushranger himself that he was Ward alias Thunderbolt.
- The Police Magistrate's summing up was published in the Armidale Express on 28 May: "From the foregoing evidence, and from the appearance of the body, I am of opinion that the deceased Frederick Ward, alias Thunderbolt, met his death from a gun-shot wound inflicted by a member of the police while in the execution of his duty – and not otherwise." Buchanan had met both of his obligations by the close of the hearing: to identify the dead bushranger and to determine if the killing was lawful.
- So when was the news regarding the death of Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt actually published?
- On Thursday evening, 26 May 1870, the office of the Sydney Morning Herald received a telegram from Armidale containing the results of the magisterial inquiry. They published the news regarding the death of Fred Ward aka Thunderbolt on Friday 27 May. "A magisterial inquiry was held by the Police Magistrate," said the report. "The body has been fully identified as that of Thunderbolt."
- The news was immediately forwarded from Sydney to Brisbane and published in the Brisbane Courier on Friday 27 May. "The body has been fully identified," said the Courier.
- The news was also forwarded from Sydney to Melbourne and published in the Argus on Friday 27 May. "The body has been fully identified," said the Argus.
- A day later, the Maitland Mercury published the first telegram they received announcing the death of Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt and included the day and time the telegram was sent: Thursday 9pm.
- On Friday, 27 May, the Police Magistrate himself sent a telegram to the Principal Under Secretary in Sydney stating "At 9 o'clock last night I concluded an inquiry as to the cause of death of Fred Ward Thunderbolt - Shot by Constable Walker. The policeman behaved very gallantly" (see Telegram).
- On the same Friday, the Armidale Express journalist who attended the inquiry wrote his own report of the inquiry which was published the next day, Saturday 28 May. The Armidale Express was a weekly newspaper published on Saturday, so this was the first report published in the local area.
- Clearly, no one (least of all Constable Walker!) jumped the gun and reported that the dead bushranger was Fred Ward until after the police magistrate concluded his inquiry at 9pm on Thursday 26 May 1870, having "most conclusively" determined that the dead bushranger was Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt.
- Yet, astonishingly, the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp continue to claim that "no one was able to put an actual name to the body [at the inquiry]" and that "It was left for young Will Monckton, being a companion of Thunderbolt ... to identify the body at Uralla on Sunday, May 29th, four days after the shooting."
- Indeed Pat Lightfoot, wrote only yesterday (14 Feb 2012): "But initially witnesses as far as he was concerned ( I believe he was an Honourable man) depended initially on the 26th May, depended on hearsay statements of so called witnesses of the body and the trooper's statements dated much later and actually contradict one another. Only Monckton sealed this on the 29th May, the morning of the funeral? So really, when you delve deeper, there is reasonable doubt that the man killed as Thunderbolt was not Fred Ward." Apologies for the incoherence of Ms Lightfoot's statement, but the gist seems to be that the witnesses at the magisterial inquiry merely provided "hearsay evidence" and that Monckton provided the necessary identification on 29 May.
- Of course, these claims from the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp are refuted by the historical evidence, that is, by the witnesses' actual testimonies which have been displayed on this website since August 2011 in the myth-debunking piece "When did Fred Ward die?"
- Moreover, Monckton's verbal identification of the body on 28 May 1870 and sworn deposition signed on 29 May 1870 came days after the magisterial inquiry had "most conclusively" identified the bushranger's body as that of Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt (see What did Will Monckton say about Thunderbolt?).
- Again, the facts show that the alleged "conspiracy" is merely a product of the conspiracy camp's failure to undertake adequate research, their failure to understand the information in the documents they have discovered, and their failure to understand the historical backdrop to the documents they have discovered.
My next blog post will further discuss these "conspiracy" claims.
 Inquest (sic) on Thunderbolt 26th May 1870 - Personal summary and conclusions by Barry Sinclair [http://users.tpg.com.au/users/barrymor/Thunderbolt%20Inquest.html]
 Email comment by Pat Lightfoot, 7 Feb 2012