Inquest on "Thunderbolt" 26 th May, 1870.

(Personal summary and conclusions by Barry Sinclair.)


Soon after the body of Thunderbolt was brought to Blanch’s Inn on the 26th May 1870, an inquest was called to determine the cause of death. As can be seen by the testimony given by Walker at the inquest and the findings of the jury of “Justifiable Homicide”, no name was able to be given to the body. Many authors claim that the Inquest lasted for over 6 hours and quote some of the many people who appeared as witness. Was it by coincidence all these people from throughout New England happened to be in Uralla at the same time on an ordinary working day?

The Purpose of an inquest is first to find the cause of death then secondly, if possible, to find the name of the deceased.

The cause of death was quite obvious & only required the evidence of Constable Walker & Dr Spasshatt. As a result the inquest should have lasted a maximum of half an hour.

For the attempt to prove the name of the body to have taken nearly six hours, with so many people giving witness, makes it obvious that they were not able to name the person, despite the points for identification that should have been on the body. The Police Gazette for Tuesday 13 October, 1863 (front page) gives the following description of Frederick Ward, "Ward is a native of Windsor, New South Wales; a laborer; 27 years of age 5 feet 8 and a quarter inches high, pale sallow complexion, light brown curley hair, hazel grey eyes, mole on right wrist and two warts on back of middle finger of left hand." Despite such a comprehensive description, they were not able to be used to identify the body as that of Frederick Ward.

The Police Gazette for Wed 24th November, 1869 page 363, gives the following description of Frederick Ward. "The offender is described as 35 years old 5 feet 8 inches high, dark complexion, & dark beard with sandy points & short curley hair, dressed in crimean shirt worn outside moleskin trousers." This certainly did not fit the body they had.

Despite the evidence given by various witnesses, the finding of the Jury was that the name of the victim was unknown, the body was placed on display for 3 days in an attempt to identify the man but although over 300 people passed the body in the next few days, no one was able to put an actual name to the body. They all said “It’s Thunderbolt alright”. It was left for young Will Monckton, being a companion of Thunderbolt, who had served one year of a six year gaol sentence (which was to include five years in a reformatory school), to identify the body at Uralla on Sunday, May 29th, four days after the shooting. Will, as an assistant of Thunderbolt, in the Tenterfield region 12 months earlier surrendered to the police and was gaoled. While in gaol he had heard that the police had shot Thunderbolt in the right knee at the top of the Moonbi’s but that he had escaped. At that time he knew he had been with Fred Ward aka "Thunderbolt" near Torrington, and that Fred Ward was not the “Thunderbolt” shot at Moonbi. Coincidently on the Saturday he was being brought to Armidale after serving his year in gaol in Sydney and was taken off the carriage as it passed through Uralla, to identify the body, and used the scar on the right knee as positive identification that the body was that of Fred Ward. The police immediately accepted his identification and excused him from the remainder of his sentence, even though this was not there right to change the rulings of the court system. “It was after this identification that Constable Walker rewrote his statement in an official report at Uralla Police Station on Sunday 29th, May 1870. This was the report incorrectly sent to Sydney as the report given at the inquest." Dr. Spasshatt, also was not permitted to keep his autopsy report, which was done on the 26th May & the one sent to Sydney also is dated the 29th May 1870, again after Will Monckton identified the body.

One only has to read the difference in the wording of the two reports of Constable Walker to realise that the body had not been identified as that of Fred Ward on the 26th May, despite the assertion by many authors, that it was identified immediately as that of Fred Ward.

Dr. Spasshatt's original report, dated 26th May, which was the one presented at the inquest, has been covered up by the police or destroyed. It was rewritten on police instructions on the Sunday, after the identifiation by Will Monckton, even though his identification of the body failed to agree with police records of markings on the body of Thunderbolt and even though the definitive identifacion marks on police records were not on the body, supposedly of Fred Ward. This second report, the one sent to Sydney the following week, is carefully dated by Dr Spasshatt, as written on Sunday 29th May as his proof of the forced cover up, together with Walker's second report, also rewritten on the Sunday as part of the cover up, supposedly as the reports given at the inquest the previous Thursday. These rewritten reports are incorrectly used, by many researches, as proof of the police claim that it was definitely the body of Fred Ward.

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EVIDENCE OF CONSTABLE ALEXANDER BINNING WALKER CONCERNING THE DEATH OF THUNDERBOLT

Testimony to the inquest convened at Blanche's inn, 26 May 1870:

I started along with Senior Constable Mulhall yesterday about 4 p.m. from Uralla. Mulhall's horse was faster than mine & he went ahead of me. When I got to the hill ascending to Blanche's I met Mulhall & he said “come I have exchanged shots with the Bushrangers”. When I got half way down the hill I saw two men on grey horses galloping. When they saw me, the oldest (?) man took a turn towards the public house. The young man blocked him (crossed him) & stopped him from coming to the road. Both then rode along the fence, I was behind them and my revolver accidentally went off. The old man then turned and fired at me. This I returned. He then said something to the young man, who at once turned right away. The old man then beckoned to me, calling out "Come on". I said “alright”. We both galloped. He turned round and fired again. I returned his fire. We then raced for a good bit across a few creeks and up a bit of a hill. As soon as he got to the top, he wheeled round and faced down to me. I was going up hill. I again fired at him. He then turned again up another hill, and we raced for about a quarter of an hour. My horse was gradually pulling him. He then (rode) over a spur & down to the Creek, whence he jumped off his horse into the water. Whilst he was swimming across I shot his horse. I then had to gallop down a good bit to cross the creek & turn up the other side. When I came to where he had crossed, he was running up the creek. Before I had reached him he had crossed the creek again in a narrow place. He stood on the bank until I came up. I said you had better surrender before you do any harm. He asked my name I told him. He said are you a trooper I said yes. He asked me are you a married man I answered yes. He then stood on the bank with the revolver in is hand & said Walker keep back. You are a married man. Remember your family. I was then about 12 or 14 feet from him. The creek was between us. I said will you surrender. He said no I'll die first. I then said, alright you or I for it. I then faced my horse into the water. My horse went head first under - right under. Whilst my horse was under the man made a rush at me with revolver in hand. As soon as I saw that I fired at him. He went under the water. When he rose he made a grapple at me & I struck him over the head with my revolver. He again went down. As soon as he came up I saw blood oozing from his mouth. I then turned my horse & came out of the creek. I then dismounted & went into the creek up to my waist & pulled the man out. I drew him out onto the bank. I fancied he was dead. I then mounted and came back to Blanche's where I borrowed a horse and cart & went to look for the body, but could not find it in the dark. About 3 O'clock this morning I started again & found the body where the encounter took place. I have seen the body now lying in the room, it is that of the man of whom I have given evidence. The man with whom I had the encounter last night and shot. It was the last shot, when he was closing with me, that killed him. Never saw the deceased before that I am aware of. I was entirely alone. I never saw any person from the time his companion left him until I pulled him out of the creek, where the encounter took place. The revolver the deceased used against me, he dropped in the water at the final encounter. He had it in his hand when he rushed at me & it was not in his hand when I drew him out.


THE VERDICT Given by the jury was Justifiable Homicide.(Added:Written by J. D. Leece, J.P.)


(Personal note:-There was no name given at this time as they were unable to identify the body despite the fact that police records showed “….Ward is a native of Windsor, New South Wales; a laborer, 27 years of age, 5 feet 8 ¼ inches high, hazel grey eyes, mole on right wrist and two warts back of middlle finger of left hand”. It appears these markings were not on the body shot by Walker as they were not used to identify the body. The details of the inquest from the Register of Coroner's Inquests, vol 5 (1864-70) containing the name of Fred Ward was not sent to Sydney on the Friday as required each week by the Register's rules but was sent the following Friday. It arrived so late that it was not added into the official listing under the correct day  but showed up after the listings for the 31st May 1870, added in after the end of the month. The details of the inquest were not sent to Sydney until after the body was identified on the Sunday, so that a name could be added to the report. The report was received in Sydney on the 4th June,1870, (NSW 1870 Inquest File reference No 464 and was dated 26th May.BJS)
(There is no listing for a second hearing on the Sunday )

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Walker's official report:
Uralla Police Station. 29th May 1870.

Given to his Superior Officer Senior Constable Brown on Sunday 29th May 1870

Constable Walker respectfully begs to report for Mr Super't. Brown's information that on the 25th instant, a Hawker brought information into Uralla about 4 o'clock pm that he was stuck up at Blanche's Public house and robbed. Senior Constable Mulhall and Constable Walker immediately started for Blanche's Public house, but the Senior Constables horse being a good deal faster than the Constables, he Mulhall arrived at Blanche's about three quarters of a mile in advance of the Constable, the Constable when he was within half a mile of Blanche heard the report of firearms, he then pushed on and met Senior Constable Mulhall just coming over the top of Blanche's hill the Senior Constable said the Bushrangers are down there, I have exchanged shots with them, the Constable galloped on and saw two men on horseback, the Bushranger Ward made for the road and the other man crossed him just before he got to the road. Ward then turned to the right and the other man with him, the two raced along Blanche's fence for a short distance and the Constables horse began to bog he took a pull on him and the Constable accidentally let his pistol off, when Ward turned round in his saddle and fired at the Constable, who immediately fired at him, Ward then said something to the other man, who turned to the right and went out of sight, Ward then beckoned to the Constable and said come on, and the Constable answered all right and raced after Ward for about half a mile when he again fired at the Constable, who returned the -fire, the chase still continued for a good while when Ward galloped up a ridge and when he came to the top, he turned his horse around and faced the Constable, and came right at him, the Constable fired but Ward did not but went on past, the Constable turned round and followed Ward until he chased him to Kentucky Creek, when he came to the Creek he jumped off his horse and into the Water, the Constable being very close at the time he immediately caught Wards horse and led him up the bank and shot him, the Constable had to go about one hundred yards down the Creek from the place where Ward swam across to get on the same side as Ward, and when the Constable came up to the place where he saw the man swim across he saw Ward about one hundred yards up the Creek on the opposite side again, the Constable galloped up and came face to face with Ward with the Creek between, about fifteen feet wide, the Constable then asked him to surrender and he said he would not he then asked the Constable what his name was he told him it was Walker, Ward then asked him if he was a Trooper, and the answer was yes, he then asked the Constable if he was a married man and the answer was yes, Ward then shook his Revolver at the Constable and said remember Walker you are a married man, the Constable then said will you surrender and Ward said I will die first, the Constable then said it's you and I for it, and immediately plunged his horse into the Water and the horse stumbled and went underneath the water when Ward made a rush at the Constable into the Water with his Revolver in his hand, the Constable fired and Ward fell forward into the Water and went under and when he came up he tried to catch hold of the Constable who then struck him on the top of the head with the Revolver, the Constable rode his horse out of the Water and tied him up, he then drew Ward out of the Creek and believed him to be quite dead, the Constable thinking the other man was Wards mate he started back to Blanches for assistance and when he came up to the house, the man that was with Ward came out, the Constable told him to keep back and give an account of himself. When he said he had been stuck up by Ward who took his horse and he was after him for the horse, the Constable then took him to look for the body of Ward but could not find it, returned to Blanches and again started accompanied by Senr. Constable Mulhall and a man named Dwyer, found the body at day light and sent word for a horse and Cart, Senr. Constable Scott came with the Cart and he searched the body and found a number of articles since identified by the Hawker as his property the body was taken to Blanches and a magisterial enquiry held, the body was afterwards taken to Uralla.

(Signed) Alex B. Walker
Senr. Constable, Uralla.

S. D. Brown, Esq.
Supert. of Police, Armidale .

Note:- Court records definitely show that there was only the one inquiry held on Thursday the 26th May 1870 with none on the 29th May.
The document has the signature of Senior Constable Walker, a promotion since the signature on Thursday signed as Constable Walker.

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Report of Dr Oettle, Former Director of the Division of Forensic Medicine in the Department of Health of New South Wales - dated  December 4th, 2003


As stated to you previously, Dr.Spasshatt has defined injuries clearly and refers to only two bullet wounds, the one on the front of the chest being the entry wound and that on the right side of the chest, being the exit. He mentions that both lungs were penetrated by the bullet, that the mouth contained blood which was consistent with blood rising from the lungs into the pharynx during the terminal attempts to breath. The blood flow to the rest of the body was diverted by that lost by the lungs injuries, to the chest cavities and the air passages. I would expect him to loose both motor and cognative function within about ten seconds because of the blood being lost through the lung injuries and both lungs collapsing. This figure is bourne out both by my experience of similar circumstance and by others documented in the USA. On occasion life as evidenced by occasional deep breaths can extend for about 3 minutes depending on the severity of the injuries received, but, in any case, no motor function can be expected after about the shorter figure given above and this might be very much less depending on whether the great vessels at the base of the heart were involved in the injuries, let alone the heart. However, Dr. Spasshatt mentions only the lung injuries. Lung collapse together with the injuries would be more than enough to cause sudden death and rapid lack of motor function compounded by breathing in water if the account of the incident is correct.   He also makes no mention of any head injury or any other gun shot injury.


I hope this answers your questions and I would be happy to hear from you should you wish to discuss it further.

Godfrey Oettle

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The Uralla Times on October 2nd 1969 on page 4 has an article titled "Oldest Uralla Women" on Mrs P W Corcoran in which it states "Mrs Corcoran is sure that Fred Ward was not shot at Kentucky Creek.

Her mother often spoke of conversing with Fred Ward at Yarrowitch the evening Thunderbolt was shot."

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Recently talking to a local aboriginal elder from Gunnedah I was told  that it was "their knowledge that it was not Fred Ward buried here in Uralla in unhallowed ground." As he was married to one of them", Mary Ann (an aboriginal girl) and had lived with them in the bush for several years, they regarded him as "family". If it had been Fred buried in unhallowed ground they would have dug him up & buried him in their local secret burial ground. She was very emphatic that it was not Fred Ward buried in Uralla. They normally don't talk about such things to we "whiteys", however she was in total agreement with what I had said especially regarding who was in the grave.

As a further confirmation of this story I received this information in the last week of October, 2003. "But one last thing - the local aboriginal community claim  Captain Thunderbolt as one of their own, a fellow aboriginal. This could have been true in traditional aboriginal culture where a person of any ethnic background who goes through the initiation ordeals was considered a member of the tribe! This was true when we lived with an Aboriginal tribe (the Miruwung in the Kimberlies in the 1970's)" - Helen Duley , history graduate, UNE Nov 18 2003

If anyone has further stories to add to this please

Email : barrymor@tpg.com.au

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Last updated on Monday 6th February, 2012