Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

History revisited - the man who stopped Thunderbolt

INFAMOUS CHARACTER: Thunderbolt is one of the most reognisable names amongst Australia's bushrangers. This is his statue in Uralla.
Some years ago on a visit to the McCrossin’s Mill Museum in Uralla I was fascinated to see that my great grandfather John Goode was one of those signing the document congratulating Constable Walker on his actions in shooting bushranger Captain Thunderbolt in Kentucky Creek in May 1870.

Growing up in Armidale, the name Constable Walker was a familiar one, if overshadowed by the more famous Thunderbolt. However, I actually knew very little about Walker. He was there as a necessary figure in a much bigger drama.

Alexander Binnie Walker was born in 1847, joining the police force as a teenager. After training in Sydney, Walker was sent early in 1867 to the Northern Police District where he served first at Grafton and then briefly at Armidale before being posted to Uralla in October 1867.

Uralla was, to use Walker’s own phrase, then it its roaring days. For four days a week Walker guarded the mail from Uralla to Bendemeer. The coach travelled past that rock now called Thunderbolt’s Rock south of Uralla.

In 1869, Walker and boss Senior Constable Mulhal were involved in the search for Charles Rutherford. Rurtherford and another man, Frank “Dr” Pearson had been bushranging and had been involved at a shooting at the Shearer’s Inn at Engonia where Constable McCabe had been shot and killed.

Pearson, a fascinating rogue who claimed to be the model for Boldrewood’s Captain Starlight character, deserves a column in his own right. For the moment, the two men split up after the shooting, with Rutherford coming up though the Liverpool Plains onto the New England to Innes Taylor’s property Terrible Vale.

Mulhall and Walker pursued Rutherford for four days without sighting him. Soon after Walker could have been shot, for Rutherford watched him while Walker changed horses at the pub at Carlyle’s Gully. Three days later, Rutherford was shot by the publican while trying to hold up the pub at Pine Ridge.

The fight that took place at Kentucky Creek has been variously described.

Walker was not a big man, five foot five inches or just over 165 centimetres tall, but he was young and obviously reasonably fit. Shot, the much older Ward grappled with Walker. Walker's horse fell. Thunderbolt rushed at him with his revolver in his hand. Walker then fired at the bushranger, who rose and attempted to grapple with the constable. The latter then struck Thunderbolt over the head with the revolver. It was Walker's last shot that killed Ward.

Private and official tributes flowed to Walker, including a Government reward of 300 pounds. On 1 June Walker was promoted to Senior Constable in charge at Glen Innes and then in August Sergeant.

Walker went on to a long and very successful career in the police force. His death at Cremorne in Sydney at the end of March 1929 attracted considerable newspaper coverage, in part because of the link the bushranging past.  
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 18 March 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.

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