I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. I am off the air for the next couple of weeks - having a well-deserved break! I'll be adding blog posts again in the new year.
When I went into the ABC studios for my interview with Margaret Throsby on Classic FM, I was told that they had received calls about my book’s “mis-representation” of Fred Ward. One caller stated that Thunderbolt wasn’t a “gentleman bushranger” but instead was a psychopathic murderer and rapist!
I had heard claims that Fred Ward was a murderer but when I had asked – repeatedly – for evidence, nothing was provided, either then or in the two years since. But a rapist? I’d never heard that one before.
Soon afterwards, when I was preparing my myth-debunking piece regarding Fred’s alleged employment at Daandine Station, I realised the origin of the rape claim. And I realised that I could easily debunk it.
On 11 May 1918, the Queenslander (p.41) published an article by William Clark claiming that he knew Fred Ward when he brought cattle from J.P. Wilkie’s property at Daandine to Clark’s father’s property at Brisbane in the early 1850s. Clark then wrote that:
Ward attempted to commit an assault on a married woman. He made his escape, went to Daandine, got a fresh horse, and started duffing fat cattle and selling them to local butchers. He was caught and sentenced to imprisonment on Cockatoo Island.
I know I keep banging on about the simplest historical detection rule (that is, determine the likely accuracy of unknown information by evaluating the accuracy of known information in the same historical source), but if this “rapist” telephone caller had been paying attention, he wouldn’t have laid such a dreadful charge against Fred’s character.
As starters, everyone knows that Fred was not convicted and sent to Cockatoo Island for duffing fat cattle in Queensland and selling it to local butchers. That being the case, William Clark’s reliability as a source of accurate information about Fred Ward is immediately open to doubt.
And what about the rape claim? This can be instantly dismissed. It wasn’t Fred Ward who was working for J.P. Wilkie at Daandine. It was his nephew John Garbutt. Whether Garbutt "committed an assault on a married woman" or whether Clark's memory was inaccurate on this count as well, will probably never be known.
See Did Fred Ward’s life of crime start in Queensland?
My publishers recently received a letter from a reader who wrote that in Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady:
“… several years of [Fred Ward’s] extensive activities have been overlooked, particularly the period from 1847 till early 1855. Given Carol Baxter’s obviously extensive research … I find it difficult to realise that she has mistaken or overlooked his period of employment on Daandine Station in about 1854/55, which it is understood, was the initiating cause of his criminal activity.”
I wrote back explaining that I had indeed come across secondary-source references stating that Fred Ward had worked for J.P Wilkie, the owner of Daandine; however my primary-source research had shown that it was Fred’s nephew John Garbutt who worked for Wilkie.
As I have seen other Thunderbolt articles and websites that mention Fred’s employment there, I thought I would use these claims for another piece of Thunderbolt analysis.
Go to Did Fred Ward’s life of crime begin in Queensland?
Today’s post provides a link to an extremely important historical document: Frederick Ward’s 1857 interrogation which was conducted by a board of inquiry at Cockatoo Island in response to the claims made by his nephew, John Garbutt, regarding Ludwig Leichhardt.
After pouring over all the original Thunderbolt material, I noticed that Fred had a speech idiosyncrasy. We all have idiosyncratic ways of saying things (for a writer it is part of their authorial voice and it was one of the ways they tracked and ultimately identified the Unibomber), and Fred had a distinctive way of commencing sentences – not always, of course, but often enough to become noticeable. Indeed, I had come to know it so well that when one newspaper article began its description of a robbery by saying that they were not sure if the robber was Thunderbolt or not, I said to myself that if the robber used Fred’s speech idiosyncrasy, I would know it was him. The robber did.
See if you can identify it. Fred used it three times in his responses to the questions asked at his interrogation.
Go to Frederick Ward’s Interrogation on Cockatoo Island.
On 28 October 2011, Dr David Andrew Roberts, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of New England, gave a research seminar titled "Resurrecting Thunderbolt: History, Fiction and Politics in an Age of Confusion". The seminar is the result of research undertaken by Dr Roberts and myself into the recent allegations of state censorship of documents concerning the fatal capture of Thunderbolt in 1870. The full seminar is now accessible via podcast, with a brief extract shown below:
On 18 March 2010 the New South Wales Legislative Council demanded the NSW Governor release allegedly censored documents relating to the death of the celebrated bushranger, 'Captain Thunderbolt', who was shot dead by police at Uralla in May 1870. Remarkably, the renewed interest in this 140-year-old episode from the colonial past was motivated by claims made in a self-published novel. Scourge of the Ranges (2009) is an historical fiction that proposes that the colonial authorities shot the wrong man in 1870 and then engaged in a high-level conspiracy to conceal this from the public. More seriously, the authors allege that the conspiracy is enduring, that the NSW government actively maintains a strict censorship over secret documents that reveal ‘the shabbiest official cover-up in our sad, inauspicious history’. While it is not unusual for historical literature to sensationalise itself on the basis of newly discovered ‘facts’, real or imagined, the use of the powers of the Legislative Council to sanction and validate such serious claims warrants a reasoned response, particularly as far as they reflect on the nature and integrity of governance and state record keeping in NSW.
The UNE School of Humanities continues to make many of its seminars available to the public via podcasts. Click here to view the range of seminars available.
Link to Resurrecting Thunderbolt Podcast
Until now, this Thunderbolt website has predominantly contained text and documents. Today I thought I would add some pictures. Various pictures of Thunderbolt can be found in books and on websites. Of these, some are genuine while others are not.
Go to Pictures of Thunderbolt
As mentioned a couple of blog posts ago, declarations keep being made in letters to newspaper editors (including one published just two days ago) that we should trust the information about Mary Ann Bugg published in "reliable" sources like Professor John Ramsland's Custodians of the Soil and Kali Bierens' undergraduate Honours thesis The Captain's Lady: Mary Ann Bugg.
Ramsland's "evidence" was discussed previously (go to Ramsland's Custodians of the Soil). Today's blog post analyses the information provided in Bierens' thesis.
Go to Bierens' The Captains Lady
One of the most important documents that has survived regarding Mary Ann Bugg is the letter written by Magistrate Thomas Nicholls in 1866 about her family and activities. Nicholls was a previous employer of the Australian Agricultural Company (as was Mary Ann's father), a magistrate in the Stroud district, and a worthy in the community.
For Mary Ann's early years, Nicholls provided information about her family background and schooling. For her later years, he provided extremely important information about her activities while Fred Ward was incarcerated on Cockatoo Island prior to his escape in 1863 (see the second last paragraph).
Go to Statement of Magistrate Thomas Nicholls
In view of Nicholls' statement and the confirmatory evidence from other contemporary records (see Did Mary Ann Bugg help Fred Ward escape from Cockatoo Island?), it is difficult to understand why Thunderbolt myth-propagators keep declaring that Mary Ann helped Fred escape from Cockatoo Island. Where is their evidence?
In all the calm, reasoned, scholarly debate conducted in letters to editors and other communications since Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady was published, declarations have been made that my exhaustive annotated timelines and myth-debunking pieces about Thunderbolt and Mary Ann are all "wrong" and that we should instead examine “reliable” sources like Professor John Ramsland’s Custodians of the Soil, as well asThe Captain’s Lady: Mary Ann Bugg, a thesis by Tasmanian undergraduate Honours student, Kali Bierens.
As these declarations keep being made, I thought I would analyse these sources. Let's start with Ramsland’s Custodians of the Soil.
Go to Custodians of the Soil
Dr David Andrew Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Australian History at the University of New England, has written a piece called Remembering Rosey for the website, discussing old-timer’s recollections published in newspapers. One is particularly interesting and relevant in determining the truth about Mary Ann Bugg.
Go to Remembering Rosey
'Bolt & Bugg Blog
Greetings all. It's time to blog about Fred and Mary Ann. My website is now so large it is almost overwhelming so I decided to add a blog to make it easier for users and also interractive. Additionally, much is happening and more is to come ... so stayed tuned. You can use the RSS Feed below to be alerted when new posts are added. Enjoy!