Well, it’s time to stop Thunderbolting after three years living the stories of Fred Ward and Mary Ann Bugg. My research is all boxed up and my filing cabinet momentarily empty. It’s been a wonderful yet strange journey, the strangest of all my journeys writing popular history. I started out thinking that I was just writing the story of a fascinating bushranging couple, then found I had to deal with all the absurd Thunderbolt conspiracy claims. Recently there have been the parallels with Malcolm Naden's exploits while on the run from the police, parallels that are leading to radio and press interviews. Its amazing the unexpected pathways I've had to follow.
But back to the Thunderbolt conspiracy theory. It never occurred to me that I would have to fight so hard to debunk it. The facts were not open to interpretation. The evidence was simple and clear-cut. As evidence has a loud voice, I thought everyone would be able to hear it
– and indeed would want to hear it. The truth matters of course
– doesn't it? So I was appalled to discover that a certain crowd refused to hear it. They were deaf to all the evidence relating to the major issues – like Fred Ward’s death in 1870. They were even deaf to the evidence relating to the minor issues
– including the name of the investigation into his killing. The brick walls were up and NOTHING penetrated.
I couldn’t understand this reaction. Sure, I had encountered the error-ridden output of poorly-skilled researchers before, having worked in the family history industry for nearly 30 years. I had also encountered the blinkered attitude of those determined to have an important ancestor, irrespective of the evidence showing otherwise. But I had never encountered this degree of blinkered ineptitude. What was going on?
Then I received an email from one of my blog readers who apparently did not want to be named on the website (but I am happy to name him if he is willing for me to do so). He asked if I had heard of the "Dunning-Kruger effect" and said that it explained the behaviour of many myth-promoters. He sent me the Wikipedia summary of this phenomenon. It states: "The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to recognize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their own abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority."
Rationalwiki provides a deliciously simple explanation of the Dunning-Kruger effect but it is probably best if I don't repeat it here for reasons that will be obvious if you follow this Link.
Suddenly it all made sense. It was the only logical explanation (well, either that or mendacity
– and I will give them the benefit of the doubt there). As it turned out, knowing about the Dunning-Kruger effect proved a valuable addition to a talk Dr David Andrew Roberts and I gave a couple of nights ago when we explored the Thunderbolt controversy. We presented a simple summary of the claims made by the Thunderbolt conspiracists and the evidence showing that their claims were errant nonsense. Then we focussed the spotlight on the conspiracists themselves. We dissected their actions, revealing, among other things, that these conspiracy claims are a form of “pseudohistory”
– that is, "a seriously suspect interpretation that postures as historical revisionism, involving the denouncement of well-known and firmly established historical facts and themes, which are refuted in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary". Significantly, most pseudohistory is pervaded by claims of ... yes, you guessed it ... "Conspiracy!". Either the revisionists are unmasking a conspiracy or they are fighting to reveal knowledge and truths that have been conspiratorially suppressed (sounds familiar, doesn't it). We examined the strategies used by the conspiracists and found that they were typical of pseudohistory practitioners in general, involving "the selective use of facts, the misrepresentation of facts, and indeed the invention of facts to advance misleading and preposterous assertions". We examined their propagation strategies which were also typical of pseudohistorians generally: "the misrepresentation of other people's arguments, the avoidance of key truths via the complication of simple and often tangential facts; false claims of scholarly credibility; appeals to the broader public via the media; the bullying and badgering of critics" and so on. And we mentioned that in some countries the production of false history
– particularly pseudohistory in its ugliest form, that known as "negationism" or denial (as in Holocaust denial)
– has been criminalised, while in other countries, particularly the US, publishers have been successfully sued for advertising works of fiction as being factual, this being considered a type of commercial fraud or false advertising. Finally we set the conspiracists' behaviour against the problem facing society today in terms of a crisis of truth, where "fact and fantasy are separated only by a click of the button". Here is a link to the Podcast of our talk. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed giving it!My job is now done:
- I have told the true story of Fred Ward and Mary Ann Bugg in my book Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady;
- I have documented all the evidence and debunked all the myths in timelines and articles published on this back-up Thunderbolt website (hard copies of which are available in relevant record offices and libraries);
- David Roberts and I have submitted the results of our research on the Thunderbolt conspiracy claims for peer review. Our paper Exposing an Expose: Fact versus fiction in the resurrection of Captain Thunderbolt was accepted and recently published in the scholarly, international Journal of Australian Studies;- David and I have also submitted an article on Mary Ann Bugg to another peer-reviewed scholarly journal, and it has been accepted and will be published later this year;
- And, finally, David and I have accounted for the behaviour of the Thunderbolt conspiracists themselves in our talk History or Myth: Captain Thunderbolt's History Wars.
Now it is time to move on: more books to write; more history to correct (the next book is the story of a murder!). But before I go, I would like to thank all of those who have supported me (you know who you are) and those who have emailed me saying “At last! The truth!” Your support means a lot to me. I would also like to thank the Thunderbolt conspiracists themselves for their many letters to newspapers and other public statements (particularly those in which they shoot themselves in the foot
– a perfect example of Dunning-Kruger in action!). As anyone in the publishing industry can attest: controversy sells books. Although the conspiracists are determinedly deaf to the voice of evidence and reason, they seem to have forgotten that the rest of the world has ears and CAN hear it. So by keeping the name Thunderbolt alive in people’s minds, they have provided free publicity which has helped sell many books. My publishers are very happy indeed.
I will publish some more blog posts when the article on Mary Ann Bugg is published and the docu-drama The Empty Grave is released. But until then, adieu.
Pat Lightfoot added the following comment to the previous blog post (What conspiracy?) but I decided to publish her whole comment as a blog post in its own right so as to respond in more detail.
Comment [from Pat Lightfoot]:
There is no conspiracy Carol. You know what I sent you last year? Now I will send you more info a detailed primary resource research I have done, not dependent on newspaper reports, or Bob Cummin's research that is biased and poorly researched that you followed blindly. I believe your book is not selling well, but Scourge of the Ranges is still and will soon be on E books.
This report of mine as under the label 'letter to the editor of the Journal of Australian Studies' will be later this year published in the same JAS. Also the movie is progressing and will include archaeological research but you will learn about this later. You and David are toast historically.
I think you and particularly Dr Roberts should decide whether you want to support fiction (via your book) or thorough historical research. You can't do both. I can do both and have proven it.
Response [from Carol Baxter]:
Yes, Ms Lightfoot is again correct. There is NO conspiracy.
1. There is and was no conspiracy to hide the truth regarding Fred Ward’s birth. The evidence clearly shows that he was the son of Michael and Sophia Ward and was not the son of their daughter Sarah, as she and her cronies claim.
2. There was no conspiracy to hide the identity of Thunderbolt’s companion when she died in 1867. The evidence clearly shows that the woman who died was named Louisa Mason and that she was a different woman entirely from Mary Ann Bugg, and that Louisa Mason was not Mary Ann's nickname.
3. There was no conspiracy or “forgery” involved in the preparation of the birth certificate of Fred and Mary Ann’s son Frederick Wordsworth Ward who was born in August 1868 (nine months after Louisa Mason died, which of course confirms that the dead woman could not possibly have been Mary Ann Bugg).
4. There was no conspiracy to cover up the true identity of the bushranger shot in May 1870. Moreover the points of identification were not “hearsay” or “circumstantial” or “lies” – as Ms Lightfoot and her cronies claim – but rock-solid objective evidence comparing height (to a quarter-inch), hair colour, hair curliness, eye colour, complexion, and the position of a mole and two warts which “tallied exactly” with an earlier description of Fred Ward.
5. There is no conspiracy on the part of the current or previous government to cover up the truth regarding the death of bushranger Thunderbolt – as Ms Lightfoot and her cronies claim.
At last a member of the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp has actually admitted in writing that there is no conspiracy!
Ms Lightfoot’s other comments are clearly wishful thinking (I’m afraid the sales of my book are actually very good and that David and I are far from being “historical toast”!) but I have published her snide and inaccurate comments in their entirety because they provide a lead-in to the much bigger question raised by this whole Thunderbolt “controversy”. Why?
“Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs,” wrote a wise man, “but they are not entitled to their own facts.” Believing that Thunderbolt was the son of his sister, that Mary Ann died in 1867, that Fred Ward “lived on”, that the earth is flat, that fairies reside at the bottom of the garden, and that a martyr is rewarded with 70 virgins, etc, etc, does not make a belief a fact. “Facts” are founded upon a corpus of evidence yet Ms Lightfoot and her cronies have failed to provide even a skerrick of evidence to back up any of their beliefs. “You are wrong!” is not evidence. “You are the worst historian ever!” is not evidence. “Go peel a grape!” is not evidence.
The evidence regarding Thunderbolt and Mary Ann is simple and unequivocal. It is exhaustively documented on this website and also in Exposing an Exposé, the acclaimed article written by Dr David Andrew Roberts and I that has recently been published in the prestigious Journal of Australian Studies. Yet, astonishingly, Ms Lightfoot and her cronies have not relinquished a single one of their beliefs about Thunderbolt and Mary Ann despite the corpus of evidence showing that these beliefs are wrong.
“There are none so blind as those who will not see.” But why won’t they see? Is it a problem with intellect or psyche? This question will be raised in a forthcoming seminar given by Dr Roberts and myself. A link to the podcast will be provided in my following and final blog post (for the time being, at least). The time has come to move on and there are other books waiting to be written.
But in the meantime feel free to make suggestions. When the evidence is so clear cut, why can’t they see? What makes them cling so desperately to their beliefs about Thunderbolt and Mary Ann? It truly is a fascinating question and I am sure you can offer some insightful answers.
Exposing an Exposé (Journal of Australian Studies, March 2012) examines the claims made in the novel Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges – and also in the media by the novel’s authors – that Fred Ward aka Captain Thunderbolt was not the bushranger shot at Kentucky Creek on 25 May 1870, that an ambitious constable named Alexander Walker advised Armidale Police Superintendent John Dowling Brown that he had shot Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt despite knowing that the dead bushranger was not Fred Ward, that the superintendent immediately alerted the Inspector General of Police in Sydney and so the news spread before the dead bushranger had been officially identified, and that when the authorities realised the dead bushranger was not Fred Ward they instituted a cover-up that continues even today and reaches as high as the Police Commissioner’s office and that of the NSW Governor. When we look closely at the claims made by the authors, we realise that their “conspiracy” claims are inconsistent. For example, in the Scourge novel they claim that Fred Ward was identified as the dead bushranger at the magisterial inquiry on 26 May 1870 but that the witnesses lied when they made the identification. However the Fact Sheet on the Death of Thunderbolt and the Inquest (sic) on the Death of Thunderbolt (published on the web by one of the authors) states that the body was not identified as that of Fred Ward at the magisterial inquiry, and that the relevant witnesses’ statements were rewritten to that effect in the aftermath. This type of major inconsistency undermines any claim to factualness. But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that there is consistency and that the Fact Sheet represents their conspiracy argument. So what does the historical evidence show? As my previous blog post reveals, the dead bushranger was “most conclusively” identified as Fred Ward aka Thunderbolt at the magisterial inquiry on 26 May 1870 (see "Most Conclusive" identification of Fred Ward and also When did Fred Ward die?). So why would the Fact Sheet author claim that Fred Ward was not identified when such a claim is so easy to disprove? This brings us to his next claim: that while Fred was not identified at the inquiry, over the next few days the relevant witnesses were coerced to change their statements to suggest that he was, as reflected in the statements sent to the police authorities in Sydney a few days later.[1; 2]
If that was the case, the authorities would have needed to coerce the following people:- Senior Constable John Mulhall, who testified that he had compared the dead bushranger’s body with the Police Gazette notice and reported that the features matched; - Senior Sergeant John George Balls, who not only compared the dead bushranger’s body with the Police Gazette notice and noted that the features “tallied exactly”, but also testified that he had personally known Fred Ward, having worked on Cockatoo Island when Fred was incarcerated there (which has been independently confirmed);- Dr Spasshatt, an independent medical practitioner who conducted autopsies for the government;- George William Pearson, a local resident who encountered Fred Ward the day before the bushranger’s death and recognised him, having known him previously while they were both residing in the Mudgee district (also independently confirmed);- John Blanch, the innkeeper who had been robbed by the bushranger shortly before his death, who reported that the bushranger told him he was Thunderbolt and that he had been shot at the nearby Rocks some seven years previously (Fred Ward was indeed shot there some seven years previously); - The Armidale police magistrate who conducted the inquiry; - The special correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald who attended the inquiry and provided the most detailed transcript of the proceedings which was published on 1 June 1870;- The Armidale Express correspondent who attended the inquiry and whose report was published on Saturday, 28 May 1870; - The Armidale Telegraph correspondent who attended the inquiry and whose report was published soon after the inquiry (the newspaper itself has not survived but extracts from his report were published in other newspapers);
- The Uralla correspondent for the Empire, whose report was published on 1 June 1870;- Fred’s one-time accomplice Will Monckton who provided his own verbal identification of the dead body on 28 May and signed a deposition to that effect on 29 May. The Thunderbolt conspiracy camp claim that Monckton was bribed to make such an identification by the offer of freedom from penal servitude, however the historical evidence shows that Monckton was already free, that he had been released from gaol a short time prior to the bushranger’s death and just happened to be coming home at that time (see What did Will Monckton actually say?).
- The many members of the local community who dipped their hands into their own pockets and raised a hefty reward for Constable Walker for shooting Ward. Clearly, the authorities would have needed to coerce all the inquiry's witnesses, most of whom they had no control over, into telling lies under oath in a court of law. They would have needed to coerce all the journalists who attended the inquiry into changing their reports. And they would have needed to coerce all the locals who donated their hard-earned money as a reward for Constable Walker. What’s more, if the conspiracy authors' claims were correct, the whole community must have kept quiet about the coercion (as if!), because claims of such a conspiracy did not surface until the novel – that is, the work of fiction – known as Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges was published in 2009. Sure, claims were made that Fred “lived on”, but these are typical of outlaw hero mythology, as discussed in Exposing an Exposé. At no time did these claims mention a widespread cover-up perpetrated by the police and government – and supported by the whole community at large. This brings us to the Scourge book’s own claim: that Fred Ward was actually identified at the magisterial inquiry, all the witnesses having lied under oath in a court of law. Again the authorities would have needed to coerce a lot of people over whom they had no control whatsoever, and everyone would have had to keep quiet about the coercion in the aftermath. Significantly, the witnesses who testified that the dead bushranger was Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt did not include Constable Walker who, according to the Thunderbolt conspiracy claims, was responsible for the inaccurate identification in the first place and for spreading the news before the body had been officially identified. Instead, the historical evidence shows that Constable Walker made no references to the bushranger’s identity until he wrote his police report four days after the police magistrate had officially identified the dead bushranger as Fred Ward. If there was a cover-up forced upon the authorities because Constable Walker jumped the gun (as the conspiracy author's claim), why would Constable Walker be the one person who did not put a name to the dead bushranger? Furthermore, the news regarding the bushranger’s identity was not spread by Walker at all, or even by his superintendent; rather, it was telegrammed to Sydney by the journalists after the police magistrate had completed his magisterial inquiry on the Thursday night and identified the dead bushranger as Fred Ward, and the police magistrate himself telegrammed the news to the Inspector General of Police in Sydney on the following day. So, contrary to the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp’s claims, Walker had nothing whatsoever to do with either the identification of the dead bushranger as Fred Ward aka Thunderbolt or the spread of the news that he had shot Fred Ward. The whole conspiracy house-of-cards collapses when these pivotal claims regarding Walker’s involvement are extracted. While the Scourge book is classified as fiction, the authors made many statements to the press about the book's “factualness”, stating, for example: “Things like conversations have obviously been created, but all the events are based on fact”. In response to one of my blog posts questioning the authors’ claims to factualness given that their claims were completely at odds with all the historical evidence, one member of the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp (Pat Lightfoot) wrote on 30 October 2011: “I was involved during the writing of this book, and fiction is the classification it was given … 'Scourge' was not intended as a history lesson that would be likely to attract some academic criticism or inquiry other than via Barry's website. Of course they promoted the book in a manner likely to attract readers! That's called publicity.” At last we have an explanation for the “dismal relationship” (as Exposing an Exposé describes it) between the authors’ claims of a widespread cover-up and the historical evidence. The claims to factualness were merely “publicity”. Now that is enlightening indeed! Endnotes
 Fact Sheet on the Death of Thunderbolt [http://users.tpg.com.au/users/barrymor/Family%20Facts%20on%20the%20Death%20of%20Thunderbolt.html]
 Inquest (sic) on the Death of Thunderbolt [http://users.tpg.com.au/users/barrymor/Thunderbolt%20Inquest.html] Sydney Morning Herald 1 Jun 1870 p.5
Following on from my previous blog post "Inquest or Inquiry?" regarding the claims made by the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp that the bushranger shot on 25 May 1870 was not Fred Ward and that the authorities conspired to hide the truth:
- A bushranger was shot at Kentucky Creek by Constable Walker on Wednesday 25 May 1870.
- A magisterial inquiry was conducted the following day, Thursday 26 May.
- The purpose of the inquiry was two-fold: to determine the bushranger's identity, and to determine whether his killing was lawful.
- The inquiry took more than six hours to complete according to the newspaper reports. The Thunderbolt conspiracy camp claims that this shows that the witnesses were unable to identify the bushranger: “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”.
- In fact, the inquiry took such a long time because the statements of each of the witnesses were written down in a form of shorthand, then these statements had to be written out in longhand so the witnesses could read them (or have them read back to them, if they were illiterate). Afterwards, each witness had to swear that the resulting deposition (that is, a statement made under oath and taken down in writing) reflected their own words, and then, in the presence of a reliable witness, had to sign the deposition itself to that effect. It was a time-consuming process.
- It is also important to remember that contemporary court and newspaper transcripts rarely noted the questions asked of the witnesses; they merely recorded the answers. The result suggests a single stream of narrative, as if the magistrate/judge/barrister asked the witness a question and the witness continued talking until the transcript of their testimony ended, but in fact each sentence of their statement was generally in response to a new question. So the question and answer session for each witness took considerably longer than the trial transcripts indicate.
- Accordingly, the claim that the length of the inquiry "makes it obvious" that the witnesses were unable to identify the dead bushranger is nonsense.
- So what about the actual identification? The Thunderbolt conspiracy camp write:
"Despite the evidence given by various witnesses, the finding of the Jury was that the name of the victim was unknown ..." Also:
"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.”
- Another member of the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp, Pat Lightfoot, wrote: "You haven't done a deep research. For starters the identity of the man was not known on the 25th May or 26th May when the doctor first saw him. No mention of warts and all was mentioned on 26th May the first hearing or identity proven." In an email sent yesterday, 14 February 2012, she declared: "To me and as an archaeologist, the magisterial inquiry or inquest if you like to call it, splitting hairs, was inconclusive".
- In fact, the identification was "most conclusive" as the Armidale Express reported on 28 May 1870: "A magisterial inquiry was held by Mr Buchanan, P.M., when the evidence was most conclusive as to the identification of the body with that of the man Fred Ward, alias Thunderbolt." It is easy to understand why this journalist, who actually attended the inquiry, reported that the identification was "most conclusive" when the testimonies themselves are examined.
- Senior Constable John Mulhall was the first to testify at the inquiry on Thursday 26 May 1870. He concluded his deposition by stating: "I produce the Police Gazette 21 October 1863 in which there is a description of Ward ... height 5 feet 8 and a quarter inches, pale sallow complexion, light brown curly hair, mole right wrist, two warts on the back middle finger of the left hand; I have seen the dead body in the room; I believe the man described in the Gazette is now lying dead in the other room; I believe it is the body of Fred Ward." (For a full copy of his testimony, see When did Fred Ward die?)- Clearly it does not require "deep research" to determine that the identity of the dead bushranger was indeed known and that the "warts and all" were indeed mentioned at the inquiry on Thursday 26 May 1870.
- Senior Sergeant John George Balls and the medical adviser to the government, Dr Spasshatt, also compared the body with the Gazette notice. Both testified that the descriptions "tallied exactly", with Spasshatt commenting specifically about the mole and warts. Balls also testified that he knew Ward personally while he was an official on Cockatoo Island (a claim supported by independent primary-source records) and "from that knowledge and the Police Gazette I positively identify the deceased as Fred Ward or Thunderbolt".
- Other witnesses testified similarly. Copies of their testimonies are displayed in the myth-debunking piece "When did Fred Ward die?" Significantly, these have been displayed on this website for the six months since August 2011 so it is astonishing that members of the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp are still claiming that "they [the inquiry] were not able to identify the body", or that the identification was "inconclusive".
- Significantly, one identification of Fred Ward aka Thunderbolt is noteworthy by its absence. At no point during his testimony to the magisterial inquiry on 26 May 1870 did Constable Walker identify the dead bushranger as Fred Ward. In fact, he never gave a name to the dead bushranger, merely referring to him as the "bushranger" or the "oldest man" or the "old man" or "he" or the "dead body".
- The Thunderbolt conspiracists in their mouthpiece novel, Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges, suggest that Walker was a maniacal and ruthless careerist driven by the promise of celebrity and reward, that he shot the wrong man, and that he was largely responsible for the error in identifying the dead bushranger as Fred Ward, because he claimed that he had killed Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt, and his superiors, accordingly, sent the news to Sydney where it was published in the press before the truth had been determined. - The facts are quite different. Firstly, the records show Walker to have been an unassuming man
– as those who knew him also attested. Secondly, it was not Walker who testified that the dead bushranger was Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt at the magisterial inquiry on 26 May 1870. Quite the opposite. The body was identified as a consequence of the statements made by the other witnesses: those who either knew Fred personally, or had compared the dead body with the Police Gazette description and noted that the distinctive mole and warts matched, or had been told by the bushranger himself that he was Ward alias Thunderbolt. - The Police Magistrate's summing up was published in the Armidale Express on 28 May: "From the foregoing evidence, and from the appearance of the body, I am of opinion that the deceased Frederick Ward, alias Thunderbolt, met his death from a gun-shot wound inflicted by a member of the police while in the execution of his duty – and not otherwise." Buchanan had met both of his obligations by the close of the hearing: to identify the dead bushranger and to determine if the killing was lawful. - So when was the news regarding the death of Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt actually published? - On Thursday evening, 26 May 1870, the office of the Sydney Morning Herald received a telegram from Armidale containing the results of the magisterial inquiry. They published the news regarding the death of Fred Ward aka Thunderbolt on Friday 27 May. "A magisterial inquiry was held by the Police Magistrate," said the report. "The body has been fully identified as that of Thunderbolt."
- The news was immediately forwarded from Sydney to Brisbane and published in the Brisbane Courier on Friday 27 May. "The body has been fully identified," said the Courier. - The news was also forwarded from Sydney to Melbourne and published in the Argus on Friday 27 May. "The body has been fully identified," said the Argus.
- A day later, the Maitland Mercury published the first telegram they received announcing the death of Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt and included the day and time the telegram was sent: Thursday 9pm.
- On Friday, 27 May, the Police Magistrate himself sent a telegram to the Principal Under Secretary in Sydney stating "At 9 o'clock last night I concluded an inquiry as to the cause of death of Fred Ward Thunderbolt - Shot by Constable Walker. The policeman behaved very gallantly" (see Telegram).
- On the same Friday, the Armidale Express journalist who attended the inquiry wrote his own report of the inquiry which was published the next day, Saturday 28 May. The Armidale Express was a weekly newspaper published on Saturday, so this was the first report published in the local area.
- Clearly, no one (least of all Constable Walker!) jumped the gun and reported that the dead bushranger was Fred Ward until after the police magistrate concluded his inquiry at 9pm on Thursday 26 May 1870, having "most conclusively" determined that the dead bushranger was Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt.
- Yet, astonishingly, the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp continue to claim that "no one was able to put an actual name to the body [at the inquiry]" and that "It was left for young Will Monckton, being a companion of Thunderbolt ... to identify the body at Uralla on Sunday, May 29th, four days after the shooting." - Indeed Pat Lightfoot, wrote only yesterday (14 Feb 2012): "But initially witnesses as far as he was concerned ( I believe he was an Honourable man) depended initially on the 26th May, depended on hearsay statements of so called witnesses of the body and the trooper's statements dated much later and actually contradict one another. Only Monckton sealed this on the 29th May, the morning of the funeral? So really, when you delve deeper, there is reasonable doubt that the man killed as Thunderbolt was not Fred Ward." Apologies for the incoherence of Ms Lightfoot's statement, but the gist seems to be that the witnesses at the magisterial inquiry merely provided "hearsay evidence" and that Monckton provided the necessary identification on 29 May. - Of course, these claims from the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp are refuted by the historical evidence, that is, by the witnesses' actual testimonies which have been displayed on this website since August 2011 in the myth-debunking piece "When did Fred Ward die?"
- Moreover, Monckton's verbal identification of the body on 28 May 1870 and sworn deposition signed on 29 May 1870 came days after the magisterial inquiry had "most conclusively" identified the bushranger's body as that of Fred Ward alias Thunderbolt (see What did Will Monckton say about Thunderbolt?). - Again, the facts show that the alleged "conspiracy" is merely a product of the conspiracy camp's failure to undertake adequate research, their failure to understand the information in the documents they have discovered, and their failure to understand the historical backdrop to the documents they have discovered.
My next blog post will further discuss these "conspiracy" claims. Sources
 Inquest (sic) on Thunderbolt 26th May 1870 - Personal summary and conclusions by Barry Sinclair [http://users.tpg.com.au/users/barrymor/Thunderbolt%20Inquest.html]
 Email comment by Pat Lightfoot, 7 Feb 2012
The claims that “Fred Ward escaped to America”, and that the police and government conspired to hide that they had shot the wrong man, continue to be made despite all the evidence showing otherwise (as documented in my Myth-Debunking pieces). Consequently, I am going to lay out the evidence simply and clearly, one blog post at a time.
Inquest or Inquiry?
- A bushranger was shot at Kentucky Creek by Constable Walker on Wednesday 25 May 1870.
- An official investigation into the bushranger’s death was conducted the following day, Thursday 26 May 1870.
- The investigation took the form of magisterial inquiry conducted by Armidale's police magistrate, James Buchanan. The Special Correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald, who attended the inquiry, wrote: On the intelligence reaching Armidale, Mr Buchanan, police magistrate, immediately started off, accompanied by Mr Mitchell, solicitor arriving at the inn about half-past 1. After viewing the body, an inquiry was commenced by Mr Buchanan and conducted for over six hours...
A Uralla correspondent for The Empire wrote: A magisterial inquiry took place on Thursday last before J. Buchanan, Esq. P.M. [Police Magistrate] ... 
The Armidale Express wrote: A magisterial inquiry was held by Mr Buchanan, P.M., when the evidence was most conclusive as to the identification of the body with that of the man Fred. Ward, alias Thunderbolt.
- The magisterial inquiry into the bushranger's death was not a coronial inquest (as the Fred-Ward-escaped-to-America camp keep insisting), which would have been conducted by the Armidale district coroner, Lewis Markham. Instead, Markham wrote to the Sydney authorities stating that he had not conducted an inquest.
- No doubt the investigation was an inquiry conducted by the police magistrate rather than an inquest conducted by the coroner because the bushranger had been shot by a policeman in the aftermath of committing a crime.
- Clearly, claims that the investigation took the form of a coronial inquest are wrong. They reflect either a lack of research by the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp or a failure to understand that a magisterial inquiry was a different court of inquiry to a coronial inquest. That distinction having now been clarified, let's not hear any further claims about an inquest having been conducted into the bushranger's death on 26 May 1870. It was a magisterial inquiry.
- Why does this matter? Because this is just one of the many errors that have been made by the Thunderbolt conspiracy camp. And it is these types of errors – some simple; some major; one on top of another – that have a compounding effect, leading those propagating the Thunderbolt conspiracy to seemingly "believe" that there was indeed a conspiracy. Yet the facts tell a different story, as shown in the Myth-Debunking pieces. Moreover, the facts show that the supposed "conspiracy" is merely a product of the conspiracy camp's failure to undertake adequate research, their failure to understand the information in the documents they have discovered, and their failure to understand the historical backdrop to the documents they have discovered.
- Inquest rather than Inquiry? It might seem like a simple error but we all know what happens when we miss a credit card payment and the simple interest charge for the failed payment starts to compound. Disaster!!
 Sydney Morning Herald 1 Jun 1870 p.5
 The Empire 1 Jun 1870 p.2
 Armidale Express, 28 May 1870 repeated in Maitland Mercury 31 May 1870 p.2
 Inquest (sic) on Thunderbolt 26th May 1870 - Personal summary and conclusions by Barry Sinclair [http://users.tpg.com.au/users/barrymor/Thunderbolt%20Inquest.html]
The following is the synopsis from Exposing an exposé: fact versus fiction in the resurrection of Captain Thunderbolt by David Andrew Roberts and Carol Baxter (Journal of Australian Studies, Vol. 36 No. 1, March 2012, 1-15):
In March 2010, the NSW Legislative Council passed a remarkable motion demanding the release of archival records relating to the death of the bushranger, ‘‘Captain Thunderbolt’’, who was shot by police in the New England (NSW) in May 1870. The interest in this 140-year-old episode from the colonial past reflects a suspicion that the police shot the wrong man in 1870 and that the colonial authorities engaged in a high-level conspiracy to conceal this from the public. More seriously, it has been alleged that the NSW government actively maintained a strict censorship over secret documents that reveal the true circumstances of the bushranger’s death. Even more remarkable is the fact that the Legislative Council motion was employed to advance the claims made in an historical novel. This article considers the alternative account of Thunderbolt’s death presented in Gregory Hamilton and Barry Sinclair’s Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges (2009), and investigates the allegations concerning the censorship of historical records in the service of an ongoing state and police conspiracy. We demonstrate that the case made in the novel, and promoted in the NSW Parliament, has been built on a misrepresentation of the nature and practice of state record-keeping in NSW.
An extract from the article (the first three pages) can be found at Exposing an exposé
When David and I wrote Exposing an Exposé in 2010 we had no idea that it would explode onto the world stage. The story has now been picked up by AAP, World News and most of the major online newspapers!
The saga began in 2009 when I was undertaking research for my book, Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady: the true story of Frederick Ward and Mary Ann Bugg (Allen & Unwin, 2011). In December of that year I read a Sydney Morning Herald article about the claims made in Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges, that bushranger Thunderbolt had not died in 1870, that he had instead escaped to America and that the government had conspired to cover up the truth. While the book itself was a work of fiction, the author's claimed in the press that the dialogue was fictionalised, etc, but that the whole story was based on fact. I immediately rang my publisher to ask her what to do. I explained that I seen claims like that on the internet but had disproven them in one day of research. She told me, essentially, to button my lips, that all would be revealed when my book was published two years hence.
While undertaking my research, I made contact with Dr David Andrews Roberts of the School of Humanities, University of New England. We discussed the claims made in the Scourge book and he asked me to write a review for the journal he edited, the Journal of Colonial History. He suggested 500 words; I countered with 750. I started writing then asked for more: 1000, 1200, 1500 and finally 2000 words. When he read the eventual review, he commented that there was so much more that could be examined, to which I replied that there was indeed but that he had only asked me to write a review. Then I suggested that perhaps we could write an article together. I had the Thunderbolt knowledge as well as that of the background bushranging period; he knew all about the local politics, local folklore and general history plus he had years of experience writing scholarly articles. We would – and indeed did – make a good team.
The end result was both astonishing and compelling as everyone who has read the article attests. At which point David decided to pitch it to the Journal of Australian Studies, an international peer-reviewed journal. Both reviewers said that it was "excellent!" and the road to publication began. Of course the lead time with journals like these is about a year. Its been a long wait! But its been worth it to see the interest it has generated.
Curiously AAP – and accordingly all the newspapers who have picked up AAPs story – did not talk about the political side of the story, the fact that the NSW Legislative Council gave these conspiracy claims an unwarranted credibility by supporting them in Parliament.
Clearly, there is lots more to come when the journal article itself is published. Stay tuned!
AAP has picked up the story as "breaking news":
A LONG-running conspiracy theory about the death of NSW bushranger Captain Thunderbolt was fabricated, historians say.
The outlaw Frederick Wordsworth Ward, popularly known as Captain Thunderbolt, was shot dead by police at Uralla, New England, in May 1870.
But a book released in 2009, titled Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges, suggested that police shot the wrong man and Thunderbolt escaped to live out his final days in America.
It says that the government hid the truth from the public for 140 years.
Historians David Roberts and Carol Baxter at the University of New England say the facts tell a different story.
"The documents are pretty straightforward and uncomplicated," Dr Roberts told AAP.
"They show that this guy was shot, he was brought in, he was identified unequivocally by various experts, and he was buried.
"Historians would never say that there was more to the story."
Dr Roberts said there was no evidence that the outlaw had lived on. "We don't know that he might not have escaped to America unless we do DNA testing on his grave.
"But to come with a wild conspiracy or counter history, you need some reasonable grounds for making that argument. Otherwise you're just telling stories to the gullible.
"It's entirely made up."
At the time of the book's release, author James Hamilton with Barry Sinclair said the NSW government had hidden documents that would prove their theory.
"There are no secret or hidden documents," Dr Roberts said.
"In fact there are no reasonable grounds for suspecting that these documents might exist.
"What the authors have essentially done is, they've created this entirely fantasised story."
Dr Roberts said locals still talked about the Thunderbolt conspiracy and he hoped his research would set the record straight.
"There's a lot of the old farmers around the place still think that Thunderbolt escaped," he said.
"The way (the book) was promoted in the media here has led everybody to universally suspect that this is a true story.
"What we're doing is basically laying it out in pretty plain terms."
The paper by Roberts and Baxter will be published in March in the International Australian Studies Association's Journal of Australian Studies.
A documentary-drama on the controversy, titled Empty Grave: the Thunderbolt Mystery, will also be released this year.
Today, the University of New England published the following press release:
Historians from the University of New England have put paid to a long-running conspiracy theory surrounding the death of the bushranger Frederick Wordsworth Ward. The outlaw, popularly known as Captain Thunderbolt, was shot by police at Uralla, New England, in May 1870, although there have been persistent doubts surrounding the circumstances of his death.
Dr David Andrew Roberts, a Senior Lecturer in Australian History, and Carol Baxter, an Adjunct Lecturer in the University’s School of Humanities and author of Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady (Allen & Unwin, 2011), have conducted extensive research into allegations that Thunderbolt escaped from NSW and lived out his final days in America.
In March 2010, the NSW Legislative Council demanded the release of archival records that were expected to throw new light on the bushranger’s death. It was thought that these documents could prove that the police had shot the wrong man in 1870, and that the colonial government had engaged in a high-level conspiracy to conceal this from the public. The Parliament’s request for documents was ultimately rejected by the NSW Lieutenant Governor, James Spigelman, on the grounds that Thunderbolt’s death had no bearing on the conduct of the current State Government.
The exhaustive research of Roberts and Baxter, to be published in detail in the next issue of the International Australian Studies Association’s Journal of Australian Studies, has proved the allegations of a conspiracy to be entirely baseless. “There is no supportable evidence that secret documents concerning the death of Thunderbolt exist, or any reasonable grounds for assuming that they might,” the researchers conclude.
“It’s quite remarkable that the powers of the Parliament should have been used to investigate a 140-year-old episode from the colonial past,” Dr Roberts said. “What’s even more remarkable is that those powers were used to elevate a wild conspiracy theory that had been put forward in an historical novel.”
In their novel Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges (Phoenix Press, 2009), Hamilton and Sinclair claimed that the police had manipulated the official inquiry into the capture of the bushranger by falsifying documents and witness statements. They further accused the then NSW Labor government of perpetuating the conspiracy by keeping the documents hidden from the public.
Roberts and Baxter suggest that the conspiracy theory presented in the novel, and then promoted in the NSW Parliament, was built on a misrepresentation of the nature and practice of State record-keeping in NSW. “It’s not unusual for historical literature to offer sensational alternatives to historical fact,” Dr Roberts said. “But it’s quite another matter for the powers of government to be used in an attempt to validate such radical and serious claims. Some will feel that there are questions to be asked of senior NSW politicians who supported those allegations. What did they hope to achieve?”
The paper by Roberts and Baxter is being published in advance of a documentary-drama on the controversy, titled Empty Grave: the Thunderbolt Mystery, made by the Queensland-based filmmakers Evolution Studios.To see the press release itself, go to: http://blog.une.edu.au/news/2012/02/07/historians-demolish-bushranger-conspiracy-theory/
Red herrings continue to swim from the Fred-Ward-escaped-to-America camp, revealing their desperate attempts to divert attention from the evidence showing that Fred Ward was definitely the bushranger who died in 1870. The latest red herring is that the autopsy doctor's description of the dead bushrangers' eye colour proves that the man could not have been Fred Ward. For the full analysis, go to What was Fred Ward's eye colour.