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"Captain Thunderbolt"

Thunderbolt alais Fred Ward

Below are some accounts of "Captain Thunderbolt" that I have collected.

Captain Thunderbolt- letter written by James Neariah Roper
Thunderbolt Again-(The Armidale Express, Saturday, May 18th, 1867)
Tenterfield (The Armidale Express, Saturday May 25th, 1867)
Bonshaw -A chance to brag - 8 May 1867
BY-GONE DAYS -Tales of Thunderbolt "POLITE" OUTLAW
Reminiscences -Tenterfield District Historical Society -James Hargrave Roper

Doings of Thunderbolt

Links to other pages

Frederick Wordsworth Ward ( aka Captain Thunderbolt)


8th May 1867,
Sovereign River

On the 3rd May I sent the Hosteler to Tenterfield on business, but he could not find the horse he intended to ride, which at once excited my suspicion that he was stolen, inconsequence of a boy the previous evening, purchasing 20 lb of flour with other goods, to go on a journey to Grafton.
I wrote a note to Constable Langworthy. He arrived the same evening and has been in and about the neighbourhood till now.

On the 8th (this morning) I sent the mail off to Tenterfield and Constable Langworthy kept it in sight as far as Maidenhead, they had been gone about half an hour (half past 10 o'clock a.m.) when Thunderbolt and boy rode up, both well mounted. I was making up my accounts. Old Dick and Archie Livingstone in my company, immediately recognised the boy that I suspected of stealing my horse. We at once said that is Thunderbolt. Archie slipped out of the back door and hid his watch under the kitchen bed. I walked into the bar, threw open all the doors and prepared to serve him if he called for grog. When he came in he presented a horse pistol at me and stated his business. I told him I could not resist, being at the moment unarmed, and he then mustered the lot of us, asked for the key of the store and marched us all into it, locked us up and the boy kept guard over us with a small pistol. He then went over the premises and finding a drawer locked, he sent the boy to fetch the key. I went back with the boy and unlocked the drawer, his pistol disagreeably close to my head. I told him he need not be frightened (he appeared to be very nervous) as I did not intend to show fight, the balance of power being against me. He took several cheques and small orders and about 2 worth of silver. I asked him to leave the silver as I could not carry on the business without it, then he gave me back about a dozen shillings, I told him 23/- belonged to the Hosteler, the price of an accordian I sold for him, he said he would not take the Hosteler's money and left it.

I told him my mates were getting tired of their confinement, he ordered the boy to let them out, and then keeping us in conversation on the verandah whilst the boy selected what ever they fancied in the store. After getting all they wanted, he called for glasses all round and paid me for them. I told him my stock was very low so he only took a couple of bottles of brandy away with him. We had a long conversation after it was over. I tried to persuade him to give over his present calling and take a stockman situation, where he was not known. He thanked me for my advice but said he tried that before but it was no answer.

They left here 10 minutes to 12 a.m. and rode by a few minutes afterwards leading two horses, all in fine condition. Three hours after they left Constable Langworthy came back from Maidenhead, his horse considerably faded and extremely vexed. He wanted to follow, I told him 'twas no use with the horse he had by him, he went to the station for another, but I dont think he succeeded. I must say Mister Langworthy had exerted himself to the utmost, but will never succeed until he is furnished with better horses. When he borrowed a horse 'tis a 2nd or 3rd rate animal, whereas Thunderbolt is riding the finest horse I have seen in the district. John Macdonald, Esquire is an exception to the rule and furnishes a good horse if one is to be convenient to the place. May 9th Thunderbolt and boy went through Ashford today with five horses.

J N Roper,
Bonshaw Hotel.

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THUNDERBOLT AGAINThunderbolt the bushranger

(The Armidale Express, Saturday, May 18th, 1867)

We are sorry to have to report another depredation by the scoundrel Thunderbolt and his mate.

So far as we can learn, on the morning of the 8th instant Thunderbolt and a lad rode up, both armed, and each leading a spare horse, to the Bonshaw hotel and store, in the village of Bonshaw, which lies between Ashford and Tenterfield. They bailed up the landlord and two other persons present, and took away money and cheques to the value of about 10 pounds, with some store goods, such as flour, tobacco, brandy, &c. one of the horses they had was supposed to be the racing mare Beeswing.

We strongly advise the Government , now that bushranging has been nearly put an end to in the S. and W. districts, to offer a handsome reward for the apprehension of Thunderbolt, and endeavour by every available means to put a stop to his nefarious career.

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(The Armidale Express, Saturday May 25th, 1867)

This report sent to you from Bonshaw Hotel, and which will no doubt appear in next "Express," renders it unnecessary for me to give any lengthened report on Thunderbolt's proceedings in that quarter. I would merely urge upon the attention of the authorities the necessity there is for taking some steps towards stopping the career of this man. Should he pay a visit to the Bank here it will be no child's play, and from the fact that he appears to be hovering about Tenterfield, first on one side and then on another, we naturally suspect the purity of his intentions; and surely it savours of mismanagement somewhere when we find that for such a length of time men of this stamp are allowed to prey upon their neighbours with impunity.

The weather still continues wet and disagreeable, and great quantity of rain has fallen during the past week.

I am informed that your contemporary the 'Telegraph' has been forced to get a new correspondent, their former one having given up in disgust. Their new correspondent's first production appeared in last issue, and I do not think they have done wisely in publishing his letter. I would merely point out, however, that no frivolous objections were raised by the gravest description, and the very fact that the manager of the A.J. S. Bank refused to answer questions put to him by Mr Hutchison infers, in my opinion, of itself that they were too much to the point, to be pleasant. "Some men are born to greatness, and some ..... have greatness thrust upon them." I was reminded of this old saying by the remarks of the 'Telegraph's correspondent about the Bank Solicitor.

Tenterfield, 18th May, 1867.

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A chance to brag - 8 May 1867

(Taken from "Thunderbolt Country" by Greg Powell page 59 with photo of the Bonshaw hotel taken in 1894, built 1891.)

With young Thomas Mason, Thunderbolt observed the small settlement of Bonshaw, close by the Queensland border. When Constable Langworthy rode out to escort the Tenterfield Mail, the two bushrangers quietly moved in to the town. They entered the hotel and began to ransack the place. They robbed the patrons but spared the hostler who was known to be a poor man.

As Mason continued the bail-up, Thunderbolt proudly related the stories of his colourful career to the Bonshaw publican. The publican noted that the bushranger kept the people in sight at all times, as well as keeping a keen eye on the roads outside.

At the completion of the robbing, warning and drinking , the two bushrangers rode off. Later, in the Borah Ranges near Manilla, young Mason was arrested and convicted of highway robbery.

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Tales of Thunderbolt


Murrurundi, Friday.

The death of Mrs Elizabeth Catherine Kilmister, which occurred recently at the residence of one of her sons at Murrurundi, recalls some stories of early days in the North.

Her father, the late Mr J N Roper, came to Australia in the late forties in a ship called The Fortitude, and settling in the environs of Brisbane, he named the place Fortitude Valley, after the boat on which he had come out. It retains the name to this day.

Later on he moved with his family into New South Wales, and it was while keeping a store at Bonshaw that he received a visit from the notorious bushranger, Thunderbolt. As he was sitting outside his store one afternoon, smoking, Mr Roper was surprised at the arrival of a splendidly mounted and armed horseman, who lost no time in introducing himself as the great highwayman. He said he was in need of supplies, and proposed to take them from the store. Feeling that discretion would be the better part, Mr roper told him to go in and rake what he wanted, and was surprised at the modesty of Thunderbolt's demands.


After helping himself the bushranger came out, sat down and joined in a smoke and a yarn, during which Mr Roper tried to persuade him to give up bushranging, get away to some pace where he was not known and make fresh start. Thunderbolt, who appeared to fell his position keenly, said he had gone too far, and knew that he must eventually meet his death but it would take a good man to catch him. He then proceeded to demonstrate his ability as a horseman by taking a handkerchief from his neck, placing it on the ground, and while going at full gallop bending over and picking it up. Then he made a target on a nearby gum tree, and again at the gallop put three shots from his revolver well in the centre of the ring as he passed.


To the end of his days Mr Roper used to tell of this episode as demonstrating Thunderbolt's splendid prowness.. Before leaving he shook hands warmly with Mr Roper and thanked him for the goods and also his kindly , but, alas abortive advice.

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I was born at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. I understand that I was the first white child born there. My father came to Australia in a ship called "Fortitude" and bought the first piece of land in the locality, so well known today as "Fortitude Valley."

The name arose because of my father's joking reply to a question he was asked when he bought the land "What will you call it?" "Oh, call it Fortitude," my father answered. The name caught on and to-day everybody who knows anything of Brisbane is familiar with the busy shopping centre officially styled "Fortitude Valley", but popularly known to Brisbane residents as "The Valley".



When I was ten my father caught the gold fever and came down to try his fortune at Boonoo Boonoo. I took a job behind the counter in a general store in Tenterfield kept by a man named Willson. The shop was in what is now known at Rouse-street. After a few years I went to Warwick where I worked for a little time, and then went to Leyburn, in Queensland and worked for a Jew named Benjamin Benjamin. He was a very fine man, and I stayed with him for about three years.

Roper River in Queensland was named after my father. *{This is incorrect see footnote}

Returning to Tenterfield, I started once more with Mr Willson who still had the well-known "Maryland" store. He was a thriving storekeeper with a good deal of push and built the stone store at the corner of Rouse and High Streets, now occupied by Mr Arch Miller, although it has been much altered in recent years. I helped to put the first load of goods into that store. Mr Willson was always kind and considerate but the pay of those days would startle the youth of to-day. For the first twelve months I opened the store at 7 am and closed it at 9 pm, working right through the intervening hours, and my pay was 2/6 a week, and "find myself." At the end of twelve months my pay was doubled, and with 5/- per week in my pocket, I looked confidently to the future. I was of course, only a lad.

There were plenty of blacks about and there was a "permanent camp" somewhere near the site of the present water supply. I remember a great corroboree there once. I remember particularly one old black named Combo Combo, who wandered about the town clad in his blanket. We youngsters used to tease him, like youngsters will and he would get very angry. Once he flung a tomahawk at us. Fortunately no one was hit, but we left him alone after that. Rheumatism crept on the poor old fellow and in his latter days he used to make a fire somehow - for he was quire crippled and sit in front of it, helpless and living on what was given to him. There were of course occasional robberies and rumors about bushrangers.

One of my duties was to carry the cash to the A.J.S. Bank across the creek. It was somewhere near the present hospital site. I have carried by myself as much as 800 pounds. I was somewhat nervous on these occasions, and would go in daylight, and was not allowed to go into any house for any reason when I was taking money to the Bank.


Of course we often heard of Thunderbolt's doings. It was often rumored that he would stick up Tenterfield, but he never did. Once he was supposed to have paid the town a visit and to have mixed with the people and to have at length been recognised by somebody but as he was far from being unpopular, he got away from the town without trouble.

My father was stuck up by him when managing a store at Bonshaw for C A Lee. The bushranger took all the cash from the till and made my father have dinner with him. They sat at opposite ends of the table and Thunderbolt had two revolvers and placed one at each side of his plate ad watched my father like a cat all the time. My father said to him, "You need not be afraid of me. I have no gun at all, and you have two. I'm not such a fool as to try anything with you." The dinner passed off pleasantly enough. Apart from his mission at the moment my father said Thunderbolt was a very nice chap and took a likeing to him. Of course, Thunderbolt never took life.

When he was leaving my father said to him. "Look, you are putting me in a fix, taking all the change. When people come along with only notes or cheques, I won't be able to do business with them." Thunderbolt agreed it was not quite playing the game and handed him back a good handful of silver, although when he had first taken the money he had said "It's not enough. But my father had been warned that Thundebolt was about and had previously hidden the bulk of the money in an old boot hidden above the door.

I think Mr Martin was manager of the Bank in Tenterfield at the time of the robbery. He was manager at one time. I remember a Mr Trollope also being manager.

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After the great Brisbane flood in the 'nineties', many people who had lost their employment trekked through Tenterfield looking for work. Mr Wilson came from Maryland Station to Tenterfield. He said someone there had advise him to start business in Tenterfield. So he called his store Maryland Store. Any house would do for a store in those days.
Gum trees grew in the streets, or perhaps it would be correct to say where the streets now are. All goods came by bullock team. Bullocks were used in preference to horses, because of the mud. They were more patient and pulled better. I remember wagons being stuck for as long as six weeks at Tabulam, before the bridge was built. Wagons were constantly being stuck in all sorts of places before the bridges and culverts were built.

Sullivan's was the principal hotel as well as I can remember. It was where the present Commercial stands. There was another hotel called the Horse and Jockey (Wheatley's). I would say it would be somewhere near the present Court House. Was in Scott st..........{note I can't interpret}

For a number of years my father acted, apart from ordinary business, as honorary caretaker of the School of Arts

I made a hobby also of watchmaking. There was no watchmaker in Tenterfield for a long time, and I looked after the watches and clocks for the public, doing all sorts of repair work. I may say successfully.

A Mr Young had a store at Tenterfield somewhere between High and Martin Streets. Mr Walker was at Tenterfield Station. He was a great man for Tenterfield. I liked him very well and he often had a chat with me in the shop. I think he took something of a fancy to me. He often took me for a drive. He seemed fond of driving, especially on Sunday
afternoons. I cannot remember the order of everyone's comings and goings, but of course, I remember the Mr Peter Jeffrey and Mr Alexander Stewart, but they come into quite recent years, as well as being identified with the olden days. There always seemed to have been Kellys, Petries, Smiths and Donnellys about Tenterfield as far as my memory serves me now.

There was no butter factory, it was carted and carried about and sold in "pats" or pounds. Of course, kegs of butter were bought by the stores and sold retail as customers required.


The opening of the railway? Of course I remember it well, I forget the year {1886} for the moment but it must be getting on for 60 years now, but that is much later than some of the things I have been talking about. My father and I went down the line one day before the opening actually took place and got a ride on a truck back to Tenterfield. We said we were the first passengers to travel to Tenterfield, by rail. Of course, the workman had been coming up and down on the trucks.


I remember well when Sir Henry Parkes was member for Tenterfield, and I heard him speak more than once. I heard him give his great speech in the School of Arts, about Federating all Australia. He had ceased to be member for Tenterfield, then, but he was Premier of New South Wales."


I remember the soap factories in Tenterfield. There was the soap factory and a cheese factory. Mr E R Whereat also established a boot factory and there was the Tenterfield Milling Company. All of these are gone now. It is a bad thing for the country when country factories are compelled to close down. I remember Mr Addison the Police Magistrate. His son married a daughter of Mr A C Lee who was or so long a member for Tenterfield. I was in his employ for some time. He was a very sound business man, and always treated me well. He held high positions in the Government from time to time, and was a great member for Tenterfield. He was very fond of children, and often gave children's parties, which I attended and enjoyed. Parties and picnics were more common than now, in fact picnics were quire an institution.

Yes, I'm ninety. It's been a long road, but, thank God, it has been a pleasant one on the whole. I had strength to work, and I did a lot of work in my time. If a man has work and can do his work he is a happy man. If he throws his work away or makes himself unfit to work by his own folly he is just a fool and thats all there is to it. Yes, I have been married twice and have been very happy always, and have had healthy and contented children. I think I could best describe my ninety years by saying, "I've had and still have much to be thankful for."


The firm of the late Mr Thomas Moore Walker and myself known as "Roper and Walker's" has carried on business on the site of their present store in High Street for 54 years. To be exact, our business was commenced on 5th May, 1885. The little building first occupied by us had previously been used as a store by a man named Markby. "Drury" had a timber yard at the back. It was accidentally destroyed by fire, and one of the store horses burnt. Attempts to rescue it failed, and its cries were heartrending. When Roper and Walker's was first started, there were on three hands engaged in the whole business
- my brother Whitfield, Mr Walker and myself. If anyone observes the building of to-day, and the number of hands employed, he can judge without any comment form me, how the business had fared during those 54 years.


(Mr Roper was awarded a King's Jubilee Medal for civic service, commercial.) ed.

Mr J H Roper died 26-9-1942 aged 93 years.

[Interview by Mr N Crawford Hon Secy Tenterfield Historical Society 20-4-1939.]

[Archives, Dixon Library, The University of New England, Armidale 1/4/1985]

* 22-5-1954 Roper River in the Northern Territory was named after John Roper a member of Leichardt's expedition. See "John Gilbert" p 213

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