Thomas Cheyne was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 6 October 1882. He was the son of Shetland Islanders Thomas Cheyne, a railway porter, and Elspeth Malcolmson and had four known siblings.
In 1900 he joined the Royal Navy as a stoker but deserted after only three days; he later joined the merchant fleet, serving on different runs. In April 1912 he was serving as an able-seaman aboard the eastward-bound voyage of the Carpathia when that ship rescued the survivors of the Titanic.
Thomas Cheyne was still working on ships in the late 1920s on the New York-Argentina run. He died in Wallasey, Cheshire in 1960.