Is Theresa related to McBarnett?
By Theresa Halvorsen
McBarnett was a fascinating man to research. He’s one of the more active ghosts aboard Star of India and the story about how he died, is incredibly gruesome. If you haven’t read about it in Lost Aboard, he slit his own throat and then when they tried to sew him back up, ripped out his own stitches, which did kill him. His ghost is attributed to a shadow ghost wearing a top hat, that likely orders people off the ship.
Less known about him is his life before he came aboard Star of India. We knew we wanted to know as much as we could about him and about why he was emigrating to New Zealand. Oral tradition told us he was strong-armed aboard and his ticket was bought by a family member. What was less known was what he did to be effectively exiled from England and his friends and family.
A quick internet search with the ship logs got me that his first name started with a C, which was a great start. Multiple sources confirmed he was a Captain in his majesty’s Royal Army. Then I found a newspaper article that mentioned his death and that his full name was Cockburn (cue your laugh). That let me go deeper into his family history. I quickly found that his name was misspelled in many of the reports of his death--McBarnett vs McBarnet.
Then here’s where it got weird. I found another news article that cited his death, but said he was a Lieutenant in the Highlanders. That led me to a scanned book that cited a Cockburn McBarnett died in 1845, not 1875 when the McBarnett on Star of India died. Further internet searches confirmed that the Cockburn McBarnetr referenced in the book about the Highlanders was not his father. Likely, someone mixed up a 4 and 7 at some point in a date.
I kept digging and found a reference that the McBarnett clan was related to the Erskin clan. One of McBarnett’s ancestors married a woman whose last name was Erskin.
And the Erskin clan is my grandfather’s family on my mother’s side. Now McBarnett and Erskin are not rare names so the chances aren’t great, but I thought it was an interesting footnote to our research about McBarnett.