Captain Thunderbolt was a mid-1800s bushranger who became something of a folk hero due to his gentlemanly behaviour and avoidance of violence. Thunderbolt roamed the region surrounding Tenterfield and camped using rock formations as his hideouts. A fantastic journey of 290km along ‘Thunderbolt’s Way’ through the Northern NSW Tablelands, links Gloucester to Walcha, Uralla and ends in Copes Creek which is 16km south of Inverell, and is a must-do for travellers wishing for a bit of adventure!
Discover Captain Thunderbolt’s Hideout just 12km from Tenterfield, in the direction of Bald Rock National Park. The large area between the rocks stabled Thunderbolt’s horses, and the top of the rock provided a lookout to the road to Warwick during the gold mining era. His success as a bushranger can be attributed to his splendid mounts and fine horsemanship, as well as his courteous behaviour, which gained the sympathies of local people.
History of a Bushranger
Born and named as Frederick Ward, he gained his nickname of Thunderbolt when he entered a tollbar house during a stealing spree, and banged loudly on the door, rousing the customs officer inside from his slumber who remarked ‘By Crikey, I thought it must have been a thunderbolt’. Ward, at the age of 11, worked on a cattle station in the New England district routinely as a drover, station hand and horse-breaker. He became an excellent horseman, with strong self-reliance and physical endurance, which lead to his success in bush survival.
In 1860, Ward met Mary, a proud Worimi woman born of an indigenous mother and convict father, who had an interesting past. Mary would act as a scout for Ward, visiting towns to see if troopers were around, and helping keep camp. Ward was always in trouble with authorities for breaking parole and horse stealing. Ward often included Mary and their children in his crimes, throughout the vast area of New South Wales from the Hunter Valley right up to the Queensland border.
Thunderbolt was eventually shot dead by an off duty policeman, Constable Walker, during a showdown at a swamp near Uralla in May 1870. Mary and the children escaped, and Mary supported herself working as a nurse, passing away in 1905.
Discover the Towns of Thunderbolt’s Way
Gloucester is a lovely country town, closest to Barrington Tops National Park. Breathtaking scenery in this area will have you staying and exploring the forests of ancient Gondwanaland, or experiencing the Copeland heritage gold mine precinct. Mary Bugg was born in this area, so start your Thunderbolt’s Trail and adventures here with the many walking trails, fishing opportunities, waterfalls and lookouts on offer.
Walcha provides spectacular countryside views, where sheer cliffs and pastured lands meet. The Open Air Gallery of sculptures in Walcha is not to be missed. And Uralla – boasting a heritage walk amongst 50 historically significant buildings, some dating from the 1860s when Captain Thunderbolt ruled the highways. You will find a fascinating display of Thunderbolt artefacts in the Museum in Uralla.