Mr Charles Donald McKay

Charles McKay

Mr Charles Donald McKay1 was born in Southampton, Hampshire, England on 10 January 18822.

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 19113.

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 in 1908 to Lydia Jane Andrews (b. 1888 in Southampton); they would have a child later that year, Nellie Doris, but the child lived only a short while.

On the 1911 census Charles was 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' wife was listed at a different address, 175 Empress Road, Southampton, and was described as a housekeeper; living with her was an unmarried carpenter from Kelvedon Hatch, Essex, Charles Marshall Borham (b. 1884), described as her boarder. 

Charles Donald McKay filed petition for divorce against Lydia Jane Andrews in 1912 with Charles Borham named as co-respondent4.

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 carry out 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. Here 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 proceedings5. 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 permitting men in to make up numbers.

McKay described how the empty lifeboat 11 was lowered to A-deck; he and steward James Witter6, 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 escorted 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)7; 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 his own. 

After boat 11 was lowered 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 estimate 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, McKay guessing that there were only three or four lifeboat behind them. 

McKay was called to testify at the British Inquiry into the sinking on 16 May 1912.

Charles returned to sea and served in the Merchant Fleet throughout WWI and continued to serve at sea into at least the 1920s. 

Details about McKay's later life are vague but 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.


  1. Records vary between spelling to include McKay and MacKay; most records point to the correct spelling being McKay. 
  2. He would give his birth date as 10 January 1878 in later documentation.
  3. He possibly died in Bergen, Norway on 3 August 1906.
  4. What became of Lydia McKay is not known and there is no record that she and Charles Borham ever married in the UK. What became of them both is unknown.
  5. McKay describes loading lifeboat 3 and then lowering her before moving to lifeboat 7 and then lifeboat 5. This is at odds with accepted lifeboat loading sequences of 7, 5, 3... and so on. Re-examined during the Inquiry as to the lowering sequence he was adamant that boat 3 departed first.
  6. He identified the steward he joined with to gather up women and children as William Wilton. William Wilton was a trimmer, not a steward, and was among the lost and has probably confused the name with James William Witter who also departed in lifeboat 11.
  7. Other stewards he identified as being in the boat were: Arthur McMicken, Alfred Theissinger and William Wilton (see note 6).


Charles Donald McKay

Articles and Stories

The Courier News (1912) 


Gavin Bell, UK
David A Huffaker
Brian J. Ticehurst, UK

References and Sources

Agreement and Account of Crew (PRO London, BT100/259)
Wreck Commissioners' Court, Proceedings before the Right Hon. Lord Mersey on a Formal Investigation Ordered by the Board of Trade into the Loss of the S.S. Titanic
Photo: National Archives (Courtesy of Gavin Bell)
England and Wales Divorce Records (#2898)
Search archive British newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

(2019) Charles Donald McKay Encyclopedia Titanica (ref: #1982, updated 13th January 2019 12:02:13 PM)

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