Thunderbolt rides onto NSW heritage register

INFAMOUS bushranger Captain Thunderbolt’s legacy continues to grow with four significant places relating to his life and death being added to the state heritage register.
Nanjing Night Net

Thunderbolt’s Rock, the site of the bushranger’s first, and last, highway robbery attempt, and the former Blanch’s Royal Oak Inn, where he held hotel occupants hostage, both joined the prestigious list.

The legendary bushranger’s place of death and his grave were also recognised as sites of particular significance.

Uralla Shire Council’s community development officer Patrick Dogan yesterday described the inductions as “important for the preservation of our local history”.

“We have lost a lot of our history such as the gold mines because there’s been no protection on them, so it’s good to have these sites preserved for years to come,” he said.

“They are an important part of our history and the preservation of them is essential for tourism in the Uralla district.”

Mr Dogan said confirmation of Thunderbolt’s criminal activities through the sites’ additions was also reassuring.

“He’s always been fairly popular in the legendary stories of Australian characters,” he said.

“But his story is laced with legends and myths, so it’s really important to have had these sites verified to make it more official.”

Thunderbolt’s Rock, which provided an excellent vantage point for surveying the surrounding countryside, was close to many of Fred ‘Thunderbolt’ Ward’s attacks.

The first outright robbery attributed to him occurred at Gostwyck Hut in October 1863.

In a shootout with police later that month, he was shot behind the left knee, a scar which later helped to identify his body.

Another site, the former Blanch’s Royal Oak Inn, was the place of his final robbery in 1870.

The Inn was representative of the type of place targeted by bushrangers in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Thunderbolt used to hold occupants hostage at the location, around 7km south of Uralla, while robbing them.

Following another reported robbery at the Inn, Thunderbolt was chased to Kentucky Creek and shot by Constable Alexander Binning Walker on May 25, 1870.

The location was identified based on Constable Walker’s police report.

Thunderbolt’s death site now lies underwater at an east-west running section of Kentucky Creek.

Minister for Heritage Robyn Parker said the sites illustrate the position Captain Thunderbolt holds in the public’s imagination.

“The exploits of Captain Thunderbolt, aka Fred Ward, were recorded in newspapers of the day and were widely known across New South Wales,” Ms Parker said.

“The legend of Captain Thunderbolt has been romanticised over the years, helped along by his daring escape from Cockatoo Island in Sydney, his reputation as a ‘gentleman bushranger’ and for evading capture for seven years.

“Thunderbolt claimed he would never steal from someone poorer than himself and was often reported as never having shot anyone – although contemporary newspaper accounts differ.”

Ms Parker said Thunderbolt’s crimes helped influence an increase in police numbers and security measures across rural areas.

“The advent of bushranging led to a widespread expansion of the police force into rural areas and increased security for mail coaches and gold escorts,” she said.

“His success as a criminal is illustrated by the increasing rewards set out for his capture and despite his crimes he is remembered as the ‘Australian Robin Hood’ rather than a terrifying robber.”

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