Mr Charles Donald McKay1 was born in Southampton, Hampshire, England on 10 January 1882.2
He was the son of John McKay (1857-1930) and Ellen Harriett Field (1857-1914), who had married in Southampton in mid-1880, his father being a native of Navan, Co Meath, Ireland and his mother from Southampton. Charles had one sibling, Thomas Roy, who was born in 1885 and died prior to 1911.3
Charles first appears on the 1891 census when he and his family are living at 17 Manchester Street, All Saints, Southampton and his father was described as a Sergeant in the Royal Marines. Charles is absent from the 1901 census when his family are living at 18 Milton Road, Southampton, most likely being at sea at the time. He first went to sea in May 1894 and worked for the Royal Mail Company and the American and Union Castle Lines.
He was married in South Stoneham Registry Office on 23 April 1908 to Lydia Jane Andrews (b. 26 May 1888 in St Denys), daughter of electrician James Andrews and the former Jane Cole. The couple made their home with Charles' parents at 18 Milton Road and would have a child later that year, Nellie Doris.
Their daughter Doris was a poorly child and died in November 1909. Shortly after their loss the marriage between Charles and Lydia quickly began to fall apart, with Lydia soon beginning an extramarital affair. Things came to a head on 7 February 1910 when Lydia left the family home altogether, moving to 175 Empress Road, Southampton with her new lover.
On the 1911 census Charles was still listed as living with his parents at 18 Milton Road and he was described as a merchant steward. Also at this address as a visitor was Titanic stewardess Elizabeth Lavington. Charles' estranged wife was listed at 175 Empress Road and was described as a housekeeper; living with was her lover, an unmarried carpenter from Kelvedon Hatch, Essex, Charles Marshall Boreham (b. 6 March 1884), described as her boarder.
When he signed-on to the Titanic on 4 April 1912 McKay gave his address as 18 Milton Road, Southampton. His previous ship had been the Olympic and as a bathroom steward he received monthly wages of £3, 15s.
At the time of the collision Charles was playing bridge in his quarters amidships on E-Deck; he felt the shock of the impact but did not find it severe. Nonetheless he and his mates abandoned their game and left their quarters and ventured out onto Scotland Road. A large number of people were already present in the alleyway but he received no initial instructions. After about fifteen minutes orders came from the second steward George Dodd to close all of the watertight doors on F-deck but before he could enact those orders the chief third class steward James Kieran was sent for so that he and his men could do that job.
Shortly after McKay saw Captain Smith come down a working staircase and presumed he was headed for a meeting with the chief engineer; about ten minutes later he saw the Captain return and head topside. Again not long after second steward Dodd ordered all crew out of their quarters and to proceed to the passenger decks; bedroom stewards went to their assigned passengers whilst McKay, a bathroom steward, was ordered to the boat deck to assist passengers with their lifebelts. In the rush McKay left his quarters without a lifebelt.
Arriving at the boat deck as commanded McKay duly assisted any passenger in need of assistance; soon the crew were ordered to their respective lifeboats and McKay made his way to his own, lifeboat 3. There he helped load women and children and a handful of men before moving aft to lifeboat 7 and doing the same; after that he moved to lifeboat 5 and where he stood back and watched the proceedings4. After seeing boat 5 loaded and lowered he moved aft to lifeboat 9 where he again watched the boat being loaded, noting that the boat was filled with women and children before taking several men in to make up numbers.
McKay described how the empty lifeboat 11 was lowered to A-deck; he and steward James Witter5, who had been placed in charge of the lifeboat, were commanded by officer William Murdoch to round up as many women and children as they could and escort them to A-deck to board. The two stewards rounded up about 40 women and children and herded them down to A-deck, picking up a few stragglers on the way and loading more people already waiting in the area.
Lifeboat 11 was loaded with what McKay estimated to be between 74 to 78 bodies, that number including nine children and nine crew (one fireman, two seamen, four other stewards and steward Wheat and himself)6; two ladies and one gentleman from second class; one first class lady and the rest third class. McKay described how lifeboat 13 was lowering at the same time as boat 11.
After boat 11 was launched to the water she had trouble clearing the ship, McKay describing how the jet of water coming out of the exhaust made her release complicated and took three men to clear her stern from the ship. Once clear boat 11 rowed away an estimated quarter of a mile and McKay recalled seeing what he believed to be a ship's red stern light off from Titanic's starboard bow in the distance.
The crowded conditions in the lifeboat caused already frayed tempers to overspill and many complained of being too cramped or having to stand; McKay also recalled he and his fellow crewmen being berated for having a smoke. The lifeboat eventually reached Carpathia late on during the rescue, McKay guessing that there were only three or four lifeboats behind them.
McKay was called to testify at the British Inquiry into the sinking on 16 May 1912.
Returning home, McKay resolved to put his house in order with regards to his marriage. It became clear that any hope of a reconciliation with his estranged wife was out of the question as it was now evident that she was carrying the child of her lover. As such, on 17 June 1912 Charles filed for divorce on grounds of adultery, the proceedings being finalised in May 1914.
Lydia and Charles Boreham, who would never officially marry, welcomed their son Morris Charles Andrews Boreham7 on 5 September 1912. The small family relocated to Essex and in 1921 greeted another son, Donald Frederick George8. By 1939 they were living in Halstead, Essex where Charles worked as a farmhand. What became of Lydia is not certain although she may have died in Essex in the mid-1960s.
Charles returned to sea following the disaster and served in the Merchant Fleet throughout WWI and continued to serve at sea into at least the late 1930s. In April 1918 he was a bedroom steward aboard the Caronia which arrived at New York, having departed from Sierra Leone. In May 1927 he was working as bedroom steward aboard the Carinthia on the Liverpool-New York run and was described as standing at 5' 6" and weighing 170 lbs.
Details about McKay's later personal life are vague; he moved up north and initially settled in Liverpool. He was married there in 1925 to draper's assistant Norah Crawford (b. 9 August 1885) and the couple, who remained childless, were making their home at 44 Parkside in Wallasey by the time of the 1939 UK register, Charles then still being described as a ship's steward.
What became of Charles' wife Norah is unclear and he is known to have remarried in 1949 to a lady named Doris M. Peartree, later moving to London where he spent the rest of his life.
Charles McKay died 11 April 1956 in 2a Suttons Court, Fauconberg Road, Chiswick, London. His estate, valued at £2179, 9s was left to his widow Doris. What became of Doris is currently unknown.