Have you ever heard the name Violet Jessop? What about the Unsinkable Molly Brown? Brown was a wealth widow who survived the sinking of the Titanic and went on to become a legend. She has been portrayed in moves and remembered in song, but there is one woman who really deserves the title ‘Unsinkable’ and that is Violet Jessop.
Jessop was born in 1887 to Irish parents who had immigrated to Argentina. When she was young, she contracted tuberculosis and her parents were told that she only had a few months to live. Violet fought hard to survive and she succeeded.
After the death of her father, her mother moved to Britain and took a job as a stewardess on ships to provide for her children. When she became ill and unable to work, 21-year-old Violet sought to get a job as a stewardess on ships like her mother, but her youth and good looks proved to be a problem. Most stewardesses at the time were middle-aged women and shipping lines believed a young woman like Violet would be a problem for the male crew members. To overcome the issue, Violet dressed in older ‘frumpy’ looking clothing and was hired by the Royal Mail Line as a stewardess on board the Orinoco.
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In 1908, she got a stewardess job with the White Star Line and assigned to the Magestic.
In 1910, Violet switched from the Magestic to the Olympic where she earned a mere £2.10 a month (about £200 today or about $259 today).
In 1911, the Olympic and the HMS Hawke collided. The Hawke was designed to ram and sink other ships and it inflicted a lot of damage to the Olympic. With its hull breached below the waterline, the Olympic made its way back to port and Violet Jessop survived without injury.
In 1912, the White Star Line was looking for stewardesses to work on board their newest prize ship, Titanic. Violet applied and was accepted on board the ship that was catering to the wealthy.
On April 15, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg and the unsinkable ship began to sink. According to Violet’s later recollection:
“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. Sometime after, a ship’s officer ordered us into the boat first to show some women it was safe.”
She had been placed in lifeboat 16 and then handed a baby to hold. Upon being rescued by the Carpathia, a woman, presumably the baby’s mother, just grabbed the infant from Violet’s arms. Violet was one of the fortunate to survive one of the most famous sinkings of all time.
A few years later, Violet managed to get a job working as a nurse on board the Britannic, considered to be the sister ship of the Titanic. After the sinking of Titanic, the Britannic which was still being built underwent a number of modifications to the original design. Instructions from the White Star Line executives ordered that the Britannic must be built is such a way to prevent it from sinking in less than 3 hours. One of those modification was sufficient lifeboats for everyone on board.
During World War I, the British government commandeered the Britannic and turned it into a hospital ship and assigned it to work in the Aegean Sea.
On November, 17, 1916, the Britannic made port in Naples, Italy where it took on coal, food, water and other necessary supplies.
On this day, November 21, 1916, Captain Charles Bartlett of the Britannic decided to sail through the deeper waters off the Greek island of Kea. Unbeknownst to Bartlett, a German U-Boat had mined the deeper passage off of Kea and at 8:12am, the Britannic hit one of those mines, blowing a hole between cargo holds 2 and 3.
Bartlett ordered the watertight doors to be closed, but many of the nurses on board had already opened the porthole windows for their patients to allow fresh air into the rooms. The Britannic started to list and the order was given to abandon ship.
Many of the lifeboats were hastily lowered but many others including Violet Jessop ended up leaping into the water below. Her landing did not go well as she later recounted:
“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!”
The Britannic sunk in only 55 minutes of hitting the mine.
Violet survived the sinking of the Britannic and yet she served on a number of other ships for years afterward.
At the age of 61, Violet retired from the shipping workforce and settled down to raise chickens and garden.
In 1971, the UNSINKABLE Violet Jessop died at the age of 84 of congestive heart failure. Not many people can say that they survived three ship wrecks, especially that of the Titanic and its sister ship the Britannic.
Sources for the above includes: The Woman Who Survived All Three Disasters Aboard the Sister Ships, The Titanic, Britannic and Olympic; RMS Britannic or HMHS Britannic; Britannic Sinks in Aegean Sea; Hospital Ship Britannic; Lost Liners: Britannic; HMHS Britannic; Britannic