Thunderbolt, or Frederick Wordsworth Ward was the most successful and probably the last of the bushrangers to roam the Australian bush.
His exploits have passed into Australian folklore. As a child I was told of my Great grandmother Anne Alicia Ward, who rode side saddle over Barrington Tops(near Newcastle) as a new bride. She always spoke well of Thunderbolt, would have no-one speak ill of him in her presence Why? I wondered.
In 1987 I set out to learn more about this man, an outlaw known as the gentleman bushranger. He rode racehorses, attended country race meetings to equip himself with the fastest mounts, was chased by a poorly equipped police force and protected aby a sympathetic public.
I discovered Mary Ann. She was the daughter of a Scottish migrant who had married an Aboriginal woman. Mary Ann attended private school and when she met Fred Ward had already been married. When did she take up with Fred Ward to lead a very hard life in the bush under constant threat of imprisonment. When he was caught for horse stealing and sentenced to Cockatoo Island, Sydney, Mary Ann helped him escape by swimming out to Cockatoo Island and hiding him in a boiler, until it was safe to swim ashore(sharks didn’t seem to worry them).
Mary Ann convinced Fred to marry and when they found a wandering minister they did. She often dressed in boy’s clothing and assisted in robbing the mail. After a few years, now with small children, they lived in more permanent homes in the bush, often chased by police and at one point was sent to Maitland Goal. Backed by a number of politicians including Dr. Dunmore Lang, she was allowed out of Goal, then charged with possession of stolen goods, but after producing receipts was again freed.
Later the children were with friends and she accompanied Fred in the bush. After a period of illness brought on by exposure in the snowy high country of Barrington Tops, Mary Ann became ill and returns to her parents.
Fred takes up with a fancy lady Louisa Mason, who is often confused with Mary Ann. She too falls ill and dies. I have developed the script with Mary Ann surviving the death of Thunderbolt at Kentucky Creek. Mary Ann is among those who file past the body at Blanch’s Inn and recognised that it is not Thunderbolt but an accomplice who died. Thunderbolt has survived!
If you would like to read the script, it is available here.