Arthur William May was born in Southampton, Hampshire, England on 25 November 1852.
He was the son of John Bartlett May (1816-1875) and Mary Nutburn, née Mullins (1811-1861). His father, a wire weaver, was a native of Plymouth, Devon and he was married to his wife Mary, a native of Beaulieu, Hampshire, on 24 March 1849 in All Saints Church, Southampton. His mother Mary seemingly had a previous marriage (around 1845?) which lasted a short while but the circumstances of that arrangement are not clear.
Arthur had three known siblings: Mary Grace (b. 1849), John Bartlett (b. 1852) and Deborah Bartlett (b. 1854).
Arthur's mother Mary died in early 1861. Only weeks later the 1861 census was conducted at the remaining family are recorded as living at Northam Road, St Mary, Southampton. Arthur and his brother John initially started their working lives as bricklayers and are recorded as such on the 1871 census, both living then as boarders at Church Road in Portslade, Sussex. He evidently did not continue down this career path and he went to sea and skipping the 1881 census.
Arthur was married in Southampton in 1885 to Ann Roberts (b. 28 January 1867 in Southampton) and the couple would have nine children, losing one in infancy. Their children were: Arthur William (1890-1912), Dennis Mark (1892-1966), Annie Florence (1895-1895), Ivy (late Mrs Robert Dalley, 1896-1960), Grace (later Mrs William Gregory, 1899-1983), Mable (later Mrs Albert Kirby, 1900-1994), Annie Louisa (later Mrs Reginald Gordon, 1906-1997), Philip Nelson (1908-1992) and Gladys Mary (1911-1919).
Arthur's wife and first child Arthur are listed on the 1891 census as boarders living at 2 Oriental Place, Southampton. He would be present for the 1901 census when the family were living at 5 Guillaume (?) Terrace, Southampton and he was described as a steamship stoker. Absent again from the 1911 census, Arthur's family were listed as living at 75 Upper York Street, Northam, Southampton.
When he signed on to the Titanic, on 6 April 1912, Arthur gave his address as 75 York Street, Northam (i.e. 75 Upper York Street). His previous ship had been the Briton and as a fireman's messman he could expect monthly wages of £6. Allegedly a bad leg had prevented Arthur from joining his ship prior to Titanic. Joining him on Titanic was his eldest son Arthur, a fireman.
Both Arthur May and his son were lost in the sinking. Neither of their bodies were recovered. The plight of the family was later reported in the press and both Arthur and his son are remembered on a family headstone in Southampton's Old Cemetery:
THIS STONE WAS ERECTED BY JOHN B. MAY IN MEMORY OF MY BELOVED BROTHER ARTHUR W. MAY WHO LOST HIS LIFE ON THE S.S. TITANIC, APRIL 15TH 1912, AGED 60 YEARS.
ALSO HIS SON ARTHUR LOST HIS LIFE ON THE S.S. TITANIC, APRIL 15TH 1912, AGED 23 YEARS.
ALSO DAUGHTER ALICE M. WHITE DIED FEBRUARY 20, 1913 AGREDE 25 YEARS. AND MY WIFE ALICE MAY OCTOBER 11 1917 AGED 53 YEARS.
The family's loss was also recorded by an unknown Daily Mail reporter writing of York Road in the aftermath of the disaster:
Mrs May, across the way, lost her husband and eldest son. The son was married a year ago and his wife had a baby six weeks ago...
Crossing the road I had a talk with the elder Mrs May, a slight, pale woman with dark sorrowful eyes. She asked eagerly for news, but when I had none to give, she sighed and the corner of her apron went to her eys. "Yes, it's true," she said in a weary voice. "Husband and son have gone and left eleven of us. It was the first time that Arthur and his father had been at sea together, and it wouldn't have happened if Arthur hadnt been out of work because of the coal strike. He tried to get work ashore but failed, and he had his wife and a baby to keep. So he signed on aboard the Titanic as a fireman. His father shouldn't have been on the Titanic but a bad leg kept him from going on his own ship, the Britannia. Now they're gone and there's eleven of us. The eldest boy, nineteen, makes a few shillings a week by odd jobs. My own youngest baby is six months old."
Daily Mail April 18 1912
Arthur's widow Ann was never remarried and was financially assisted by the Titanic Relief Fund. She died in Southampton on 29 April 1948.