Bail? The bushranger who’d shot at the police had been offered bail? Why? asked an appalled squatter who attended Thompson’s committal hearing early in May.
The magistrate explained that it was usual in all cases of felony except murder and rape – unless, of course, the police objected. And the police hadn’t objected!
The squatter remonstrated with him, reminding him of the character of the boy he was about to bail, and advising him of the character of the man who was gathering the bail money. The magistrate immediately rescinded the bail order but his error of judgment nearly cost him his honorary job.
Another lapse in judgment allowed Thompson to escape from Tamworth gaol, after picking open the ring of his hobbles and climbing over the eight-foot gaol wall. He hadn’t been able to discard the hobbles altogether, however, and his lurching pace slowed him enough to be caught.
‘He is as impudent and boastful as formerly,’ reported the Tamworth press, indicating that Thompson’s brush with death hadn’t chastened him. However he was clever enough to know when he was beaten. Two months after the shooting, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two concurrent terms of fifteen years on the roads. He saw the insides of many New South Wales gaols before being released in 1872, only seven years into his sentence. His mother had petitioned the visiting Prince Alfred on the grounds of her son’s extreme youth at the time of the crimes, claiming that Thunderbolt’s wiles had drawn the boy into a life of crime, however she had died before his eventual release.
Impudent and boastful he continued to be, calling himself John Thompson alias Thunderbolt, a reminder to all of his felonious connections. Not surprisingly, he was back in gaol six months later, by reason of stupidity as much as anything else. After the police tried to apprehend him following another robbery, he fired at them and fled, but was later spotted by one of the policemen when he attended his accomplices’ court hearing. The newspapers reported that the fleet-footed felon was apparently in training for the pedestrian sports at the Albert Ground. Fleet-footed he might have been but with little sense of direction. It was the equivalent of an own goal.
Released in 1881, his tally of crimes and aliases continued to increase. A year later, James Jamieson alias Thompson alias Thunderbolt again fired at the police after attempting to rob the Australian Mutual Provident Society. Had the ex-bushranger found a new hero by this time, a ‘father’ in the American outlaw Jesse James? Fortunately his mother wasn’t alive to see the man her innocent boy had become.