Captain Thunderbolt, despite a name seemingly custom-designed for a comic book, was not a superhero. He certainly couldn’t stop bullets from hitting at his chest.
I went in search of places named for "Captains Less Prestigious" recently. The effort intended to find memorable places associated with second-tier captains who never achieved the same level of fame or renown of Captain James Cook. This prompted reader "John of Sydney" to mention Thunderbolts Rock and Thunderbolts Way in the vicinity of Uralla, New South Wales, Australia. While neither designation specifically included a military title, John noted that both referred to a Nineteenth Century character known colloquially as Captain Thunderbolt.
This "captain" was a bushranger, an Australian highwayman, born with a much less memorable name in 1835: Frederick Wordsworth Ward. His criminal life began early as a horse thief and involved a prison sentence a failed parole and finally an escape from the Cockatoo Island penal establishment (map). Wanted by the authorities, Ward returned to criminal pursuits to support himself in an attempt to avoid another trip to prison. He also returned to lands already familiar to him, to the New England District of New South Wales. Here he could rob soft targets with impunity while hiding in the rugged, sparsely-populated terrain he knew so well.
Thunderbolt’s Hideout: Melanie J. Cook on Fickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
Ward dubbed himself Captain Thunderbolt by 1863 as his fame or infamy began to spread. Bushrangers as a class were viewed in some quarters as folk heroes for their ability to live by their wits in harsh terrain and remain one step ahead of the law. Unmistakeably, these bands of roving outlaws were criminals. Captain Thunderbolt focused on easy marks such as remote country stores, postal carriers, highway travelers, livestock stations and hotels. This was not a romantic lifestyle.
Nonetheless the bushrangers generated a level of sympathy in the face of a justice system perceived by the underclass as socially unfair. It’s really not all that different than some of the bandits roaming the Old West of the United States. Captain Thunderbolt may not have achieved a level of name recognition as did other famed bushrangers such as Ned Kelly, however he may have been the most proficient. His career lasted nearly seven years, perhaps the longest continuous streak of any bushranger. Longevity was not a hallmark of this particular occupation.
Australia’s Famous Bushrangers noted:
[Captain Thunderbolt]… undoubtedly had great nerve, endurance and unusual self-reliance and his success as a bushranger can be largely attributed to his horsemanship and splendid mounts, to popular sympathy inspired by his agreeable appearance and conversation, and to his gentlemanly behaviour and avoidance of violence; he also showed prudence in not robbing armed coaches, or towns where a policeman was stationed. The last of the professional bushrangers in New South Wales, Ward was the most successful.
Detailed accounts of Ward’s life include the Australian Dictionary of Biography and the aforementioned Australia’s Famous Bushrangers. The second source is particularly useful and includes a photograph taken of Ward after his death plus a long list of crimes attributed to him by date and location.
View Thunderbolt in a larger map
Thunderbolt territory consisted primarily of the western side of the Great Dividing Range north of Sydney and south of Brisbane. It is still readily identifiable within the modern terrain. I consulted the Government of Australia’s Geoscience Australia Gazetteer of Australia Place Names to produce the map displayed above. Notice the tight clustering of various Thunderbolt-themed geography: mountain; lookout; cave; gap; gully; gorge; hideout; hill; hole; and rock. It’s a veritable treasure map of Captain Thunderbolt’s Nineteenth Century haunts.
Notice the road that I marked with a red line. This is Thunderbolts Way that John mentioned in his original comment. It is well regarded as a great scenic road covering a variety of terrain including mountains and plains, running 290-kilometres (180 mi) between Gloucester and Copes Creek. It cuts directly through territory once roamed by Captain Thunderbolt.
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Thunderbolts Way takes travelers through Uralla, NSW. Here, the town erected a Captain Thunderbolt statue at the intersection of the Thunderbolts Way and the New England Highway. Uralla figures significantly in the demise of the bushranger. Along Kentucky Creek (nearest Street View image) just outside of town, a constable finally caught-up with Frederick Ward and shot him dead. Captain Thunderbolt came to an untimely end in 1870 although legends of survival and mistaken identity continued for years thereafter.
Uralla leverages its Captain Thunderbolt connection as a tourism draw. In addition to the road and the statue, Uralla hosts an exhibit at the McCrossin’s Mill Museum and draws attention to various of his bushranger hideouts nearby. One can even visit his grave in the Old Uralla Cemetery.
Thunderbolt, most definitely, would be a "captain" less prestigious.
Totally Unrelated Weather Update
Hurricane Sandy gave the Washington, DC area a pretty severe pounding of rain and wind into the early hours of this morning as expected. I was pretty lucky. We kept electrical power throughout the storm in spite of numerous trees and wires down within my immediate neighborhood. The family is fine. So is the gecko.
I’ve been familiar with the phrase "Batten Down the Hatches" for so long that as I think back, I can’t recall when I first heard it. I’ve always understood it to have a nautical derivation that has been reapplied to mean a more general effort to prepare for the worst. One would want to cover a ship’s hatches in rough waters or during a storm to keep the vessel from taking on water. The meaning is completely understandable and the analogy apt. I’d always figured that "batten" must have been the act of locking a hatch cover into place. Honestly, I never though much about it. My assumption was correct although the actual explanation is a bit more intriguing. It turns out that battens were strips of wood that were nailed-down along the edge of a tarpaulin to cover an open hatch. The batten was a means to hold a cover in place on an old wooden sailing ship.
Loyal 12MC readers from the northeastern United States understand where I’m going with this. The rest of you can be excused for scratching your collective heads since a major weather event that will not impact you probably doesn’t have much meaning in your life at the moment. The Mid-Atlantic region of the United States is directly in the crosshairs of Hurricane Sandy as I write this. Sometimes life intrudes on the Twelve Mile Circle and that’s where I am this morning. I’ve not had any time to pull together a decent geo-oddities article for you.
Frankly I’m getting a little fatigued by Mother Nature. We went through an earthquake and then Hurricane Irene last year followed by that weird derecho thing during the summer that wreaked havoc upon the electrical grid. Now we have another hurricane. I can’t recall a similar clustering of natural events in my entire lifetime living within the Mid-Atlantic. Crazy.
We’re about as prepared as I suppose it might be possible to be given the circumstances. I spent a couple of hours cleaning all the gutters and downspouts to make sure the rainfall drains away from the house. We gathered up every object that might be moved by the wind and locked them in the garage. We filled the gas tanks in all of the cars.
It’s almost a certainty that we will lose electricity. The power goes out here during garden-variety thunderstorms so it’s more a matter of how long it will take before we’re knocked off the grid. Flashlights, batteries, water, non-perishable food. Check. We have a gas stove and oven that do not require electricity so at least we’ll have hot meals. The temperature is expected to remain above 40° Fahrenheit (4.5° C), and often several degrees above. That might be a little chilly however it’s completely doable with warm clothing and blankets. It’s an inconvenience. It’s not life-threatening.
Then there’s the gecko. My older son got a baby gecko for his birthday a few weeks ago. It requires very specific temperature ranges that are incompatible with what’s expected over the next few days. We’ve developed several contingencies. We can use the stove to heat-up small granite tiles that we can place under the cage. We also have a box of air-activated hand warming pads and we’re pretty sure we can rig the cage to attain proper temperature without letting the lizard get too close to the pads. Finally we have body heat and could put him into a small box and bring him under the covers with us. Those are all short-term solutions. The longer-term solution will be to find a neighbor with electricity once the storm passes. The people living next door are served by a different grid. Often one or the other of us will have electricity restored first and we’ve had a long-standing agreement to snake electrical cords back-and-forth, so that might be an option.
It boggles my mind that our biggest concern and our greatest preparation involves a $19 gecko. Those of you with children will probably understand.
I’ll be back in touch once Hurricane Sandy passes and I’m back on the grid. Don’t be concerned if 12MC goes offline for a few days.
The Twelve Mile Circle continues to generate all sorts of interesting search engine queries, an endless stream of potential article topics. I remember back in the early days of the blog I had to come up with everything myself. That’s rarely an issue anymore. Case in point, someone wanted to know the shortest way to drive from Canada to Mexico.
I don’t know why someone would necessarily want or need this knowledge. One would have to cross through the United States any which way one slices it. This led me to conclude that perhaps my unknown visitor had an issue with the United States. He didn’t like it for some reason. Maybe he was a wanted criminal or an aging Vietnam War draft-dodger? Are the U.S. military authorities still looking for those guys? Never mind. Let’s just say they are for the sake of this exercise.
Maybe he’s a smuggler concealing something of particular value to people in Mexico but not to people in the United States? The query didn’t provide specifics so I’ll make them up. Let’s help our draft-dodging smuggler of Chinese counterfeit soccer balls make it through the United States as quickly as possible. He’ll have to obey speed limits to avoid police attention and he’ll have to use default routes generated by Google Maps as a proxy because he’s unfamiliar with the dangerous U.S. territory he will cover.
At first I wanted to set up a matrix. I intended to calculate both the distance and time between every U.S. border crossing with Canada and Mexico. I abandoned that when I counted 117 Canadian and 47 Mexican possibilities (117 X 47 = 5,499 combinations, both for time and distance). As much as I enjoy and respect the 12MC audience, it’s not productive for me to calculate 10,998 different numbers simply to determine the absolutely minimal times and distances. I took some educated guesses instead. It’s possible that others may improve upon these marginally, and perhaps even meaninfgully.
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Residents of Vancouver, British Columbia probably have it the best. Traveling via the Douglas, BC crossing to the Tijuana (West) crossing in Baja California would take 22 hours and 43 minutes over a distance of 2,223 kilometres (1,381 miles). That’s less than a day! Also, now that we realize Google Maps overestimates travel times, one could probably shave another hour or two from that figure with continuous driving and make it to the safety of the Mexican border posthaste.
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I wondered if I could discover a shorter Pacific Coastal route. The original one swings out to the west albeit it takes complete advantage of an efficient and swiftly-moving Interstate 5. Would a shorter route, one more closely aligned with a line of longitude make a difference? Actually, no. I replicated the exercise starting from the Paterson, BC border crossing instead. Oddly, it was both longer and less timely. Examining the map (above) it seemed to unfold this way because of the wobbly nature of obscure roads selected for the trip. Notice several jogs east and west that increased the total distance (2,305 km / 1,432 mi) and time (25 hours).
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There was another route. It surprised me how closely it challenged the Pacific Coastal route, although it wouldn’t benefit many Canadians. Maybe residents of Regina, Saskatchewan could use it. Otherwise it’s fairly remote from population centers. This one ran from the Oungre, SK border crossing to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, on the Bridge of the Americas crossing. Google maps predicts that the U.S. transit would cover 2,220 km (1,379 mi), over 23 hours 18 minutes. See what I mean? Three kilometers shorter although 45 minutes longer.
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Finally I attempted a diagonal route, taking advantage of the southern boundary dip following the contours of the Great Lakes. It’s a little longer (2,596 km / 1,402 mi) and couldn’t be done in a single day (27 hours). However, potentially, many more Canadians could take advantage of it due to its relative proximity to Toronto and Montréal. This one goes from Windsor, Ontario to Piedras Negras, Coahuila.
The worst option? It’s probably Campobello Island, NB to Tijuana (West). That’s 5,438 km (3,379 mi) over 55 hours (map).
Hopefully this will offer plenty of options for my Canadian draft-dodging soccer ball smuggler.