William Donovan was born in Liverpool in 1885, the son of Humphrey and Emily Donovan. His father was a dock labourer, and whereas it is stated that he is married to Emily in both the 1881 and 1891 English Census, a record exists of William’s father marrying a woman named Annie Irvine on the 18th August 1891 in Liverpool! William was unmarried, and the family home was at 86 Titchfield Street, Liverpool.
William had been in the Royal Navy, and had served on the submarine, H.M.S. A 4, before enlisting in the British Mercantile Marine.
He engaged as a fireman in the Engineering Department on board the Lusitania, at Liverpool, on the 13 April 1915, at a monthly rate of pay of £6-10s-0d, (£6.50), £1-0s-0d, of which was advanced to him at the time. He reported for duty four days later, at 8 am on 17 April, in time for the vessel’s last ever voyage out of the River Mersey.
He survived the sinking, three weeks later, when the liner was on the return leg of her voyage and only hours away from her home port. After some time in the sea, William Donovan was picked up and landed at Queenstown from where he eventually made it back to Liverpool.
Once home, he was officially discharged from the Lusitania‘s final voyage and paid the balance of wages owing to him for his service on board from 17 April until 8 May 1915, 24 hours after the liner had gone down. This amounted to £4-14s-0d, (£4.70).
Despite surviving his ordeal, he was to die in a Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary on the 7 February 1919, aged 34 years, one of the many victims of the great influenza pandemic which lasted from 1918 to 1920. He was buried in grave 362 at Ford Cemetery, Litherland, Liverpool, on the 13th February 1919. At the time of his death, he was engaged as a fireman on the cargo vessel
Australpool, which sailed regularly from Great Britain to Australia and the Far East.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, Ships of the Royal Navy, PRO BT 334.