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Captain Thunderbolt

Horse breaker - receiver

During the gold rushes of the 1850s the demand for stock was great and prices were high. Even though the penalty for stock theft at the time was higher than that of kidnapping, it was a fairly common practice. Disputes over stock ownership were comon; there was no official register of brands and auctioneers often turned a blind eye to the sale of stolen stock.

Fred Ward became involved in a horse stealing operation led by his Nephew John Garbutt. Although Fred was eventually convicted only of 'receiving', Garbutt claimed it was Fred who stole about 50 horses from the Paterson River property 'Bellevue' and nearby 'Tocal' in April 1856. Up to about 15 of the horses stolen were from Tocal while the majority were from Bellevue.

The CR brand

Some of the stolen horses probably carried Charles Reynolds' CR brand shown in the photo at right.

The theft and subsequent sale were soon pieced together and the gang members arrested. Fred Ward faced the East Maitland Quarter Sessions on 13 August 1856 and was found guilty of receiving. He was sentenced to 10 years hard labour and sent to Cockatoo Island in Sydney to serve his sentence.


1. For recent research on Thunderbolt, including new sources of information, see Carol Baxter's website www.thunderboltbushranger.com.au.

2.Further information is also available in the book Captain Thunderbolt - Horsebreaker to Bushranger which you can buy from Tocal [details]