When we look closely at the claims made by the authors, we realise that their “conspiracy” claims are inconsistent. For example, in the Scourge novel they claim that Fred Ward was identified as the dead bushranger at the magisterial inquiry on 26 May 1870 but that the witnesses lied when they made the identification. However the Fact Sheet on the Death of Thunderbolt and the Inquest (sic) on the Death of Thunderbolt (published on the web by one of the authors) states that the body was not identified as that of Fred Ward at the magisterial inquiry, and that the relevant witnesses’ statements were rewritten to that effect in the aftermath. This type of major inconsistency undermines any claim to factualness. But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that there is consistency and that the Fact Sheet represents their conspiracy argument. So what does the historical evidence show?
As my previous blog post reveals, the dead bushranger was “most conclusively” identified as Fred Ward aka Thunderbolt at the magisterial inquiry on 26 May 1870 (see "Most Conclusive" identification of Fred Ward and also When did Fred Ward die?). So why would the Fact Sheet author claim that Fred Ward was not identified when such a claim is so easy to disprove? This brings us to his next claim: that while Fred was not identified at the inquiry, over the next few days the relevant witnesses were coerced to change their statements to suggest that he was, as reflected in the statements sent to the police authorities in Sydney a few days later.[1; 2]
If that was the case, the authorities would have needed to coerce the following people:
- Senior Constable John Mulhall, who testified that he had compared the dead bushranger’s body with the Police Gazette notice and reported that the features matched;
- Senior Sergeant John George Balls, who not only compared the dead bushranger’s body with the Police Gazette notice and noted that the features “tallied exactly”, but also testified that he had personally known Fred Ward, having worked on Cockatoo Island when Fred was incarcerated there (which has been independently confirmed);
- Dr Spasshatt, an independent medical practitioner who conducted autopsies for the government;- George William Pearson, a local resident who encountered Fred Ward the day before the bushranger’s death and recognised him, having known him previously while they were both residing in the Mudgee district (also independently confirmed);
- John Blanch, the innkeeper who had been robbed by the bushranger shortly before his death, who reported that the bushranger told him he was Thunderbolt and that he had been shot at the nearby Rocks some seven years previously (Fred Ward was indeed shot there some seven years previously);
- The Armidale police magistrate who conducted the inquiry;
- The special correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald who attended the inquiry and provided the most detailed transcript of the proceedings which was published on 1 June 1870;
- The Armidale Express correspondent who attended the inquiry and whose report was published on Saturday, 28 May 1870;
- The Armidale Telegraph correspondent who attended the inquiry and whose report was published soon after the inquiry (the newspaper itself has not survived but extracts from his report were published in other newspapers);
- The Uralla correspondent for the Empire, whose report was published on 1 June 1870;
- Fred’s one-time accomplice Will Monckton who provided his own verbal identification of the dead body on 28 May and signed a deposition to that effect on 29 May. The Thunderbolt conspiracy camp claim that Monckton was bribed to make such an identification by the offer of freedom from penal servitude, however the historical evidence shows that Monckton was already free, that he had been released from gaol a short time prior to the bushranger’s death and just happened to be coming home at that time (see What did Will Monckton actually say?).
- The many members of the local community who dipped their hands into their own pockets and raised a hefty reward for Constable Walker for shooting Ward.
Clearly, the authorities would have needed to coerce all the inquiry's witnesses, most of whom they had no control over, into telling lies under oath in a court of law. They would have needed to coerce all the journalists who attended the inquiry into changing their reports. And they would have needed to coerce all the locals who donated their hard-earned money as a reward for Constable Walker. What’s more, if the conspiracy authors' claims were correct, the whole community must have kept quiet about the coercion (as if!), because claims of such a conspiracy did not surface until the novel – that is, the work of fiction – known as Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges was published in 2009. Sure, claims were made that Fred “lived on”, but these are typical of outlaw hero mythology, as discussed in Exposing an Exposé. At no time did these claims mention a widespread cover-up perpetrated by the police and government – and supported by the whole community at large.
This brings us to the Scourge book’s own claim: that Fred Ward was actually identified at the magisterial inquiry, all the witnesses having lied under oath in a court of law. Again the authorities would have needed to coerce a lot of people over whom they had no control whatsoever, and everyone would have had to keep quiet about the coercion in the aftermath.
Significantly, the witnesses who testified that the dead bushranger was Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt did not include Constable Walker who, according to the Thunderbolt conspiracy claims, was responsible for the inaccurate identification in the first place and for spreading the news before the body had been officially identified. Instead, the historical evidence shows that Constable Walker made no references to the bushranger’s identity until he wrote his police report four days after the police magistrate had officially identified the dead bushranger as Fred Ward. If there was a cover-up forced upon the authorities because Constable Walker jumped the gun (as the conspiracy author's claim), why would Constable Walker be the one person who did not put a name to the dead bushranger?
Furthermore, the news regarding the bushranger’s identity was not spread by Walker at all, or even by his superintendent; rather, it was telegrammed to Sydney by the journalists after the police magistrate had completed his magisterial inquiry on the Thursday night and identified the dead bushranger as Fred Ward, and the police magistrate himself telegrammed the news to the Inspector General of Police in Sydney on the following day. So, contrary to the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp’s claims, Walker had nothing whatsoever to do with either the identification of the dead bushranger as Fred Ward aka Thunderbolt or the spread of the news that he had shot Fred Ward. The whole conspiracy house-of-cards collapses when these pivotal claims regarding Walker’s involvement are extracted.
While the Scourge book is classified as fiction, the authors made many statements to the press about the book's “factualness”, stating, for example: “Things like conversations have obviously been created, but all the events are based on fact”. In response to one of my blog posts questioning the authors’ claims to factualness given that their claims were completely at odds with all the historical evidence, one member of the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp (Pat Lightfoot) wrote on 30 October 2011: “I was involved during the writing of this book, and fiction is the classification it was given … 'Scourge' was not intended as a history lesson that would be likely to attract some academic criticism or inquiry other than via Barry's website. Of course they promoted the book in a manner likely to attract readers! That's called publicity.”
At last we have an explanation for the “dismal relationship” (as Exposing an Exposé describes it) between the authors’ claims of a widespread cover-up and the historical evidence. The claims to factualness were merely “publicity”. Now that is enlightening indeed!
 Fact Sheet on the Death of Thunderbolt
 Inquest (sic) on the Death of Thunderbolt
 Sydney Morning Herald 1 Jun 1870 p.5