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Violet Jessop; The Survivor Of Three Shipwrecks, The Titanic, the Britannic, and the Olympic.

Updated: Apr 15

Violet Jessop, renowned as an ocean liner stewardess and nurse, is famously remembered for surviving the catastrophic sinkings of both the RMS Titanic in 1912 and its sister ship, the HMHS Britannic, in 1916. Remarkably, she had also been aboard the RMS Olympic when it collided with a British warship in 1911.

Born on October 1, 1887, near Bahía Blanca, Argentina, Jessop was the eldest daughter of Irish immigrants, William and Katherine Jessop. She grew up alongside eight siblings, with six surviving infancy. Despite facing adversity, including a presumed battle with tuberculosis during her childhood, Jessop's resilience prevailed against doctors' dire predictions.

At 16, tragedy struck with the death of her father due to surgery complications. Subsequently, the family relocated to England, where Jessop attended a convent school. She juggled her education with caring for her youngest sister while her mother pursued work as a stewardess at sea. When her mother fell ill, Jessop left school to follow in her footsteps, securing a stewardess position at the age of 21 with the Royal Mail Line aboard the Orinoco in 1908.


RMS Olympic damage

In 1910, Jessop began her tenure as a stewardess aboard the White Star vessel, RMS Olympic, which held the distinction of being the largest civilian liner of its era. On September 20, 1911, Jessop was present when the Olympic departed from Southampton and encountered a collision with the British warship, HMS Hawke. Fortunately, there were no casualties, and despite sustaining damage, the ship managed to return to port without incident. Interestingly, Jessop opted not to include details of this collision in her memoirs.


Fr. Browne's photograph of the RMS Titanic at Cobh, Irelend

Jessop embarked on the RMS Titanic as a stewardess on April 10, 1912, at the age of 25. Just four days later, on April 14, the ship struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean. Within two hours of the collision, the Titanic had sunk. In her memoirs, Jessop recounted being summoned to the deck to serve as an example for non-English speakers who couldn't understand the instructions being given. She observed as the crew loaded the lifeboats and was eventually directed to board lifeboat 16. As the lifeboat descended, a Titanic officer entrusted her with caring for a baby.

"I was ordered up on deck. Calmly, passengers strolled about. I stood at the bulkhead with the other stewardesses, watching the women cling to their husbands before being put into the boats with their children. Some time after, a ship's officer ordered us into the boat (16) first to show some women it was safe. As the boat was being lowered the officer called: 'Here, Miss Jessop. Look after this baby.' And a bundle was dropped on to my lap."

The next morning, Jessop and the rest of the survivors were rescued by the RMS Carpathia. According to Jessop, while on board the Carpathia, a woman, presumably the baby's mother, grabbed the baby she was holding and ran off with it without saying a word.

"I was still clutching the baby against my hard cork lifebelt I was wearing when a woman leaped at me and grabbed the baby, and rushed off with it, it appeared that she put it down on the deck of the Titanic while she went off to fetch something, and when she came back the baby had gone. I was too frozen and numb to think it strange that this woman had not stopped to say 'thank you'.


Photographs of the Britannic are pretty rare. Here is one, taken about 1915, of the ship decked out in her hospital colors. The funnels would have been painted tan. “HMHS” stands for His Majesty’s Hospital Ship.

During the First World War, Jessop served as a stewardess for the British Red Cross. On the morning of 21 November 1916, she was on board the HMHS Britannic, a White Star liner that had been converted into a hospital ship, when it sank in the Aegean Sea due to an unexplained explosion. The Britannic sank within 57 minutes, killing 30 people. British authorities hypothesized that the ship was either struck by a torpedo or hit a mine planted by German forces. Conspiracy theories have circulated that suggest the British were responsible for sinking their own ship. Scientists have been unable to reach definitive conclusions as to the true cause. While the Britannic was sinking, Jessop and other passengers were nearly killed by the boat's propellers that were sucking lifeboats under the stern. Jessop had to jump out of her lifeboat and received a traumatic head injury, but survived despite her injuries.

"I leapt into the water but was sucked under the ship's keel which struck my head. I escaped, but years later when I went to my doctor because of a lot of headaches, he discovered I had once sustained a fracture of the skull!"

In her memoirs, she described the scene she witnessed as the Britannic went under:

"The white pride of the ocean's medical world... dipped her head a little, then a little lower and still lower. All the deck machinery fell into the sea like a child's toys. Then she took a fearful plunge, her stern rearing hundreds of feet into the air until with a final roar, she disappeared into the depths."

Following the war, Jessop remained employed with the White Star Line, later transitioning to positions with the Red Star Line and eventually returning to the Royal Mail Line. While serving with the Red Star Line, Jessop embarked on two voyages around the world aboard the company's flagship, the Belgenland. In her late thirties, Jessop entered into a brief marriage before retiring to Great Ashfield, Suffolk, in 1950.

Years after retiring, Jessop recounted an intriguing tale of receiving a mysterious telephone call one stormy night. A woman on the line inquired if Jessop had rescued a baby on the fateful night of the Titanic's sinking. "Yes," Jessop affirmed. The voice then revealed, "I was that baby," before laughing and abruptly ending the call. Her friend and biographer, John Maxtone-Graham, speculated that it might have been children from the village playing a prank. Jessop, however, insisted, "No, John, I had never shared that story with anyone before telling you now." Historical records indicate that the sole baby aboard lifeboat 16 was Assad Thomas, entrusted to Edwina Troutt and later reunited with his mother aboard the Carpathia.

Affectionately nicknamed "Miss Unsinkable," Jessop passed away from congestive heart failure in 1971 at the age of 83.



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