Charles 'Charlie' Hotchkiss was born on 22nd June 1885, in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, the son of Henry Brooke and Ellen H. Hotchkiss, (née Sangster). He was the only boy, but had a sister named Agnes. Whilst he was young, his mother died and his father re-married a lady, who like his mother was named Ellen, - surname unknown. He had one step-sister, Elsie, from this second marriage. As a boy, he attended Coalbrookdale School of Art and gained certificates for the quality of his water colours. He himself never married. He was known to be a kind and generous God-fearing man.
He joined the Cunard Steam Ship Company in 1905 and served on ships of the Company's fleet, including the
Campania before he joined the Lusitania as a first class waiter in the Stewards' Department. He engaged in this capacity for her final voyage, at Liverpool, on 12th April 1915 at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d. (£4.25p.), and reported for duty at 7 a.m. on 17th, before the liner made her final exit from the River Mersey. At that time, he was living at 3 Liversedge Road, in Birkenhead, Cheshire, on the opposite bank of the River Mersey from Liverpool.
Having completed the liner’s journey to New York without mishap, he was on board when she left there for her return voyage on the early afternoon of 1st May 1915. Six days later, the
Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20 within sight of the coast of southern Ireland and only about 250 miles away from the safety of her home port.
Charles Hotchkiss was fortunate to survive this action and afterwards he would recount the story that although he could not swim, (like so many sailors of the time), as the ship was sinking, he dived into the sea to rescue an American woman passenger who was drowning. This was almost certainly second cabin passenger Mrs. Julia Sullivan, who, although Irish, was making her way to England from Boston Massachusetts, where she had lived for eleven years and it is possible that Charles Hotchkiss might have thought her to be American for this reason.
He managed to get her onto a raft or a piece of wreckage and it was only after many hours in the open sea that they were both picked up. They were eventually landed at Kinsale in the evening, by the Royal Naval patrol vessel H.M.S.
Heron, along with ten other survivors and five bodies. Although this story does not tally exactly with the account of Julia Sullivan’s rescue, it is most likely that the
American woman passenger was she, and whoever it was, she gave Waiter Hotchkiss a gold pen in gratitude for her rescue and this is still in the possession of the family today.
Hotchkiss was taken to hospital in Kinsale before being passed fit to travel and taken to Queenstown. He then took a train for Dublin and a boat to Holyhead in Wales and then another train to Birkenhead before finally arriving in Liverpool by Mersey ferry in the early hours of 10th May.
When he had completely recovered from his ordeal, he was officially discharged from the
Lusitania’s final voyage and paid the balance of wages owing to him which amounted to £4-9s-6d. (£4.45½p). In common with all the members of the crew, survivors or killed, this amount covered the time period 17th April to 8th May 1915 - 24 hours after the ship had foundered.
Employed by Cunard for the rest of his life on such ships as the Carinthia, and the
Caronia, he also served his country during the Second World War. However, in the summer of 1942, whilst on board the troopship Franconia, by this time serving in the capacity of ship's librarian, he was taken ill with angina. When the ship docked at Durban, South Africa, he was removed to Addington Hospital for treatment, but died there on 13th July. He was aged 57 years.
When his will went to probate on the 1st June 1943, administration was granted to his step-sister, Mrs. Elsie Antonio Boughey and his effects amounted to £1,132-16s-0d, (£1,132.80p).
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, Margaret Birkett, Cunard Records, UniLiv,D92/1/6, White Star Journal, Probate Records, PRO BT 350.