Violet Jessop: The Unsinkable
Nicknamed “Miss. Unsinkable” Violet Jessop was an Irish-Argentine stewardess, nurse and memoirist. She survived 3 tragedies occurring on the White Star Line, including the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Her parents were Irish immigrants who moved to Argentina where Violet was born. She had 8 siblings, and the family were devout Catholics. Violet cheated death from an early age, after beating an illness that made doctors give her weeks to live. Even worse, 6 of her 8 siblings died in childhood. After her father’s death, her mother became a stewardess and the family moved to Britain. Violet followed in her mother footsteps and became a stewardess as well. She was at first considered too young and beautiful to be a stewardess. They thought she would distract crew and passengers alike, but Violet stopped wearing makeup and wore unfashionable clothes. Then, shipping lines hired her. She did, however, receive at least 3 marriage proposals while working aboard ships.
Joining the White Star Line
Violet didn’t want to join the White Star Line at first. The weather and tales of demanding passengers pushed her away from joining. However, Violet did sign onto White Star eventually, becoming a stewardess. She claimed to have liked the Americans aboard Olympic, the White Star Line ship she joined in the early 1910s, as they treated her well.
Violet was working on Olympic when the ship collided with the Hawke, damaging the ship severely. This incident delayed Titanic’s construction. This was the first White Star Line accident that involved Violet.
The event hurt no one and the injured ship hobbled to the coast. The Hawke was a warship, but both ships became gravely damaged. Most of Olympic’s disfigurement occurred below the waterline. This incident required extensive repair on both of them. It was one of the first signs of impending tragedy in the White Star Line, but it was a sign ignored.
Violet joins Titanic
Violet next signed onto Titanic. Once aboard, Violet recalled how new the Titanic smelt compared to the year old Olympic. Like many other crew members on Titanic, Violet had previously worked on Olympic. She was convinced by family and friends to join onto the liner’s crew. Violet greatly admired Titanic’s builder, Thomas Andrews. She remembers Andrews always being bright and friendly, no matter how tired he was. All seemed well on the voyage until April 14th, 1912.
On April 14th, Violet was resting in her bed when Titanic hit the iceberg. She was not asleep, but much rather drowsy and comfortably resting in a trace like state. Violet, once ordered up to deck, began to help passengers into lifeboats. However, she did remember the sense of calm that most people in the ship felt right after the collision. Violet was meant to act as example for non-English speaking passengers. Violet behaved well, although it was extremely cold that night. She recalls it as,
“Little wisps of mist like tiny fairies wafted gently inboard from the sea and made my face clammy.”
Violet Jessop stayed aboard until given a baby and told to watch over the child. Then ordered to enter a lifeboat, Violet boarded lifeboat number 16. Lifeboat 16 is not as memorable as other lifeboat stories, but passenger Carla Andersen remembers that the boat was quite unsteady. After floating on the ocean for hours, rescue arrived. The Carpathia rescued Violet and she brought the baby aboard. While on Carpathia, the child’s mother then grabbed the baby and ran off. Violet’s testimony of the baby is the only information we have on the child. She did not tell anyone of the baby until 1970.
Violet was training to be a nurse before she signed on with Britannic. Britannic, which was safer than the Titanic, was initially supposed to be a commercial liner. However, when WW1 started, it never was. No one quite knows why Britannic sank, but it is most believed to have been a German mine. After the collision, everyone on board had an instant reaction. Violet recalled this was very different from the sinking of the Titanic.
She was sure to remember her toothbrush. Losing it the last time on Titanic upset her greatly. While on boat deck, Violet entered into an nearly empty lifeboat and it lowered quickly. However, Britannic’s crew lowered lifeboats too early, and the ship’s stern rose quickly. The propellers kept spinning, dicing up everything from men to lifeboats to luggage into bloody chunks of meat and wood. The propeller hit Violet’s head when the suction pulled her boat into the horrifying scene. She claimed it was her heavy auburn hair that saved her. She suffered a head injury, but survived the sinking of the Britannic. However, due to the injury, she lost a lot of hair and wore a reddish wig in her later years.
Violet Jessop was nearly completely bald by the time she was first interviewed in 1970. The incident also caused the nurse her terrible headaches that she suffered from throughout the rest of her life.
Violet Jessop’s incredible stories of surviving shipwrecks earned her the nickname Miss. Unsinkable. Violet died in 1971 due to heart failure after settling in Suffolk. The nurse lived a quiet life after serving on a multitude of ships after the sinking of the Britannic. She worked for such a long time, although she did have some fears about the size of the liners. She has said, “I did not like big ships… I was secretly afraid.”