Frederick Wordsworth Ward was born at Wilberforce about 1836, the son of former convict Michael Ward (who was transported to the colony in 1815) and his wife Sophia who followed him out to the colony two months later. Michael and Sophia had ten children; William (Harry), Sophia Jane, Sarah Ann, Amelia (Emily), Edward B, Joshua, George E, Esther P, Selina Maria and Frederick Wordsworth.
Fred’s parents moved to the Maitland area in 1846, and at a very young age he was employed as a groom and station hand on several properties in the lower Hunter and Paterson River districts.
When Fred was about 20 years old he was working on ‘Tocal’ Station, near Maitland, when he suddenly resigned. At this time his older brother, William, was involved in a large scale horse and cattle stealing business with Michael Blake and John and James Garbutt. It has been said that James Garbutt employed Fred to help drive 75 horses down to Windsor. After they were sold it did not take long for the horses to be recognised, and Garbutt and Fred were arrested. They were sentenced to ten years with hard labour.
Fred served four years at Cockatoo Island, then on 1st July 1860 was released on a Ticket of Leave. He went to Garbutt’s ‘Cooyal’ Station in the Mudgee district. During this time he met and fell in love with Mary Ann Bugg whose father was English and mother Aboriginal.
Mary Ann was 14 years old when she married Edmund Baker, a shepherd, and moved to the Mudgee district. Sometime later her husband died and shortly after meeting Fred she returned to work at Stroud. Fred followed her to Stroud and found employment on a local property. By late 1860 Fred and Mary Ann were married in the Church of England church at Stroud.
Fred had to report once a month to the Mudgee Police station and would borrow a horse from his employer for the trip. In October 1861 he borrowed the horse and attended muster in Mudgee. On his arrival he was arrested for arriving late and for being in possession of a horse for which he could not prove ownership. He was tried and returned to Cockatoo Island to serve the remainder of his sentence plus an extra three years for horse stealing. Two weeks after his return to Cockatoo Island, Mary Ann gave birth to their first child, Marina Emily Ward on 26th October 1861.
Fred Ward and Fred Britten escaped from Cockatoo Island with Mary Ann’s help. She then hid them in a disused boiler until the police stopped searching for them. The two Freds went north, and in November were reported to be in the Singleton area where shortly afterwards they robbed a hut on ‘Gostwick’ Station near Uralla, taking food and a firearm. They while they attempted to hold up a coach just south of Uralla Fred Ward was shot. It was after this that the men parted company, with Fred Britten going south to Victoria.
On 21st December 1863 Fred Ward held up the tollbar house at Campbell’s Hill between Rutherford and Maitland. It was after this event that he called himself “Captain Thunderbolt”.
Mary Ann left Balmain and returned to join Fred in the Hunter Valley. They moved to ‘Dareel’ Station in Queensland and from there headed west to ‘Currawillingi’ Station on the Culgoa River. Fred, Mary Ann and their two children settled there and Fred was employed as overseer. After about six months, Fred and some of the station hands drove a mob of cattle down to market in the Hunter Valley. There he learnt that the police knew his whereabouts, so he returned to bushranging.
During the next few years Fred, with a number of different accomplices, continued to do hold-ups and managed to stay one step ahead of the police. He committed numerous robberies, stealing from the mails and bailing up travellers on the roads. Some of his accomplices during that time were William Travenor, William Monckton and William Henry Simmons.
Mary Ann died from pneumonia on 17th November 1867 near the Goulburn River. Fred continued to steal from the mail coaches and holding up travellers on the roads in the district. For the last 18 months he chose to work on his own.
On Wednesday 25th May 1870 “Thunderbolt” met his end. On that aftermoon he bailed up an Italian hawker named Giovanni Capasotti, robbed him of ?3-13-6, jewellery, a small gold nugget and a watch and chain. Next he robbed a stockman of his tobacco and a few shillings. While he was still holding the two men at gun point a young man named Coglan rode up on a grey horse and leading another grey horse. Ward let his two earlier victims go and proceeded to try out the two greys, as he wanted to take one of them.
Meanwhile the hawker had gone to the nearest station and after borrowing a saddle and bridle set off for the Uralla Police Station. After informing Senior Constable John Mulhall and Constable Alexander Binning Walker, the two police officers galloped off in search of “Thunderbolt”. They chased “Thunderbolt”, and he was finally shot and killed by Constable Walker just south of Uralla at Kentucky Creek. Constable Walker, for his bravery, received the reward of £400 and was duly promoted.
Frederick Wordsworth Ward, alias “Captain Thunderbolt”, was buried in the Uralla Cemetery where his grave can still be seen today.
Ward was involved in more than eighty major hold-ups and robberies, which were reported to be worth about £20,000. A great deal of this money was in cheques and half notes, which were useless to a bushranger.
Questions have arisen as to the true identity of the man shot by Constable Walker. Family descendants have suggested that it was his brother Harry, as it was he that had been shot in the knee during an exchange of shots with the police and not Fred. It was this injury that William Monkton used to positively identify the body as that of Fred Ward, and not the marking that “Thunderbolt” was known to have had such as the large mole on the back of the second finger of the left hand.
On the Saturday after Ward’s supposed death, two troopers from Uralla were attending a race meeting at Glen Innes, when they noticed a horse that belonged to “Thunderbolt” tied up at the track. After watching the horse for some time, suddenly a man jumped onto it and left before they could stop him. The police gave chase and pursued him in a south-easterly direction, finally losing him at a place called “Ward’s Mistake” near Guy Fawkes (now called Ebor). This was incidentally only a few miles from his sister’s home. When the troopers reported back to Armidale, they were told to forget their report as the bushranger was already dead.