Charles Knight was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England in 1849, the son of John and Ann Knight.
He married Jane Knight on 21 September 1873 in Liverpool and in 1915 they lived at 10 Picton Road, Wavertree, Liverpool, Lancashire with their son William, who was one of their five children.
It is probable that Charles was one of Cunard's oldest employees as he first went to sea in 1871 on the
Calabria of the D and C McIver Line, which later became part of the Cunard Steam Ship Company. After that he served on the
Batavia, the Abyssinia, the Scythia, the Servia, the
Lucania, the Carpathia, the Ivernia, the Lusitania and the
He returned to the Lusitania a few months before her final voyage and engaged on her once more as a night watchman in the Stewards' Department at Liverpool on 12 April 1915, at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d (£4.25). He reported for duty at 7am on 17 April, before the liner left the River Mersey for the last time.
When the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk three weeks later he sustained an injury to his right elbow. Struggling in the water, he spotted a new rope ladder floating on the waves which had some buoyancy in it because it was still tightly rolled up. Despite the injury to his elbow he was able to seize hold of this and cling on tightly for three and a half hours.
He was eventually picked up and landed at Queenstown where he was interviewed about his ordeal and photographed. The interview and the photograph, showing his injured arm clearly supported by a sling, appeared in the 13 May 1915 edition of 'The Cork Examiner'.
After his return to Liverpool, on 11 May he was officially paid off from the
Lusitania’s last voyage and received £4-9s-6d (£4.47½), the balance of wages owing to him. He was unable to sign for this money himself and instead made a mark, and Cunard’s discharge register records show the reason, 'injured hand' under his mark.
This was undoubtedly the injury to his elbow sustained in the sinking and it was ultimately to prove fatal. It was infected and despite the best medical attention he died of septicaemia ten days after the sinking, on 17 May 1915 at his home in Picton Road.
He was aged 65 years, although he had given his age as 62, when he engaged.
At the inquest into his death, held on 18 May 1915, the Liverpool City Coroner Thomas Edward Sampson expressed his:
"abhorrence of the cowardly, and inhuman sacrifice of life"
caused by the sinking and reporting on the inquest, local newspaper 'The Liverpool Echo' stated:
"Owing to advancing age, he was appointed a night watchman, and in that capacity served on the Lusitania until the sinking of the vessel.
William J. Knight, son of the dead man said his father reached home on 11th inst. and witness learned that he had a severe injury to the right elbow. Blood poisoning followed, and death occurred on the 17th.
His father had informed him that he had been asleep when the Lusitania was torpedoed. He put on some clothes, and aroused others of the crew who remained sleeping. He donned a lifebelt and soon found himself in the water from where he was rescued in about 3½ hours, by a steam launch, and while unconscious. He did not know how he received his injury."
Further evidence of the sinking, not directly concerning Night Watchman Knight, was given by Chief Steward Frederick Jones after which First Class Bedroom Steward James Grant told how just before the liner sank, he had dived into the sea:
"After swimming for twenty minutes he boarded a drifter and went back to help people in the water, deceased being among the number eventually rescued. Witness bound up the deceased's injured arm and next day, medical aid was provided."
Medical evidence was given to the court that death was due to blood poisoning, accelerated by Charles Knight’s immersion in the sea and the verdict of the court "in harmony with the medical evidence", was that death was caused by:
"Injuries owing to the torpedoing of the Lusitania, by a German submarine."
The foreman of the jury further stated:
"We all wish to associate ourselves with the remarks you have made, Mr. Coroner and to express our abhorrence at the dastardly act which caused the death of this man."
His death certificate, issued on 19 May 1915 stated his cause of death to be:
"Blood poisoning due to injury to right arm and accelerated by immersion in the sea owing to the torpedoing and sinking of a ship by a German submarine on the high seas on 7th instant."
Charles Knight’s funeral took place on the morning of 20 May 1915, three days after his death. Following a service at St Thomas’ Church, Ashfield he was buried in Allerton Cemetery, Liverpool, with the committal service conducted by the Reverend P Latimer Davies. His remains lie there still, in Church of England Section 3, Grave 157.
His headstone, in white marble, has an inscription which states: -
"In Loving Memory of
who Died 17TH MAY 1915
AGED 65 YEARS
JANE His Beloved Wife who
Died 27TH NOVEMBER 1938
AGED 89 YEARS"
There is no mention of his Lusitania ordeal and its outcome, on the headstone.
Perhaps because Night Watchman Knight died of wounds received in the sinking, his name was not recognised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as a war casualty. Following representations by the author however, in June 2000 the Commission decided that Charles Knight had died as a result of enemy action and agreed to include him in its general index, giving him an official cemetery register entry which reads:
"KNIGHT Night Watchman Charles. SS "Lusitania" (Liverpool) Mercantile Marine. Died of injuries received when vessel sunk by an enemy submarine off Kinsale, 7 May 1915. Age 65. Husband of Jane Knight of 10 Picton Road, Wavertree, Liverpool."
The Commission also decided to inspect his grave in Allerton Cemetery to decide if he is adequately commemorated there.
The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted Jane Knight a yearly pension to compensate her for the loss of her husband. This amounted to £18-15s-5d (£18.77) payable at the rate of £1-11s-4d (£1.56½) per month.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1851 Census of England and Wales, 1861 Census of England and Wales, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cork Examiner, Cunard Records, Holmfirth Express, Liverpool Echo, Liverpool Inquest Register 1915-1918, Liverpool Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, Tom McDonough, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv. PR 13/24.