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|Violet Constance Jessop|
Violet Jessop in her Voluntary Aid Detachment uniform while assigned to HMHS Britannic
2 October 1887|
Bahía Blanca, Argentina
|Died||5 May 1971
Great Ashfield, Suffolk
|Parent(s)||William and Katherine (Kelly) Jessop|
Violet Constance Jessop (2 October 1887 – 5 May 1971) was an ocean liner stewardess and nurse who achieved fame by surviving the disastrous sinkings of both the RMS Titanic and her sister ship, the HMHS Britannic, in 1912 and 1916 respectively. In addition, she had been on board the RMS Olympic, their other sister ship, when it collided with the protected cruiser HMS Hawke in 1911.
Violet Jessop was born to William and Katherine Jessop, Irish emigrants living near Bahía Blanca, Argentina. William Jessop had emigrated from Dublin in the mid-1880s to try his hand at sheep farming in Argentina. His fiancée, Katherine Kelly, followed him out there from Dublin in 1886. Violet was the first of nine children, only six of whom survived. Violet herself contracted tuberculosis at an early age, but, despite doctor's predictions, she survived. After her father died, Violet and her family moved to Great Britain, where she attended a convent school. After her mother became ill, she left school and took a stewardess position with the Royal Mail Line aboard the Orinoco.
At age 23, Violet Jessop boarded the RMS Olympic on 14 June 1911 to work as a stewardess. The Olympic was a luxury ship that was the largest civilian liner at that time, being nearly 100 ft (30 m) longer than any other ship. Olympic′s first major mishap occurred on 20 September 1911, when she collided with the protected cruiser HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight. Although the incident resulted in the flooding of two of her compartments and a twisted propeller shaft, Olympic was able to limp back to Southampton. At the subsequent inquiry the Royal Navy blamed Olympic for the incident, alleging that her large displacement generated a suction that pulled Hawke into her side.
Violet boarded the RMS Titanic as a stewardess on 10 April 1912. Four days later, on 14 April, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic, starting to founder and, over the next two hours, broke in two and sank. Violet described in her memoirs that she was ordered up on deck, because she was to function as an example of how to behave for the non-English speakers who could not follow the instructions given to them. She watched as the crew loaded the lifeboats. She was later ordered into lifeboat 16, and, as the boat was being lowered, one of the Titanic′s officers gave her a baby to look after. The next morning, Violet and the rest of the survivors were rescued by the RMS Carpathia. According to Violet, while on board the Carpathia, a woman grabbed the baby she was holding and ran off with it without saying a word.
During the First World War, Violet served as a stewardess for the British Red Cross. On the morning of 21 November 1916, she was on board His Majesty's Hospital Ship Britannic when the ship apparently struck a sea mine and, with all the portholes open for ventilation, quickly sank in the Aegean Sea off the Greek island of Kea, with the loss of 30 lives. There is also a second theory for the cause of the sinking, claiming that a German U-Boat shot the Britannic without warning, regardless of its status as a medical ship. While the Britannic was sinking, Violet jumped out of a lifeboat to avoid being sucked into the Britannic′s propellers. She was sucked under the water anyway, and struck her head on a lifeboat's keel before surfacing and being rescued. She later stated that cushioning, due to her thick auburn hair, helped save her life. She had also made sure to grab her toothbrush before leaving her cabin on the Britannic, saying later that it was the one thing she missed most immediately following the sinking of the Titanic.
After the war, Violet continued to work for the White Star Line, before joining the Red Star Line and then the Royal Mail Line again. During her tenure with Red Star, Violet went on two around the world cruises on that company's largest ship, the Belgenland. In her late 30s, Violet had a brief marriage, and in 1950 she retired to Great Ashfield, Suffolk. Years after her retirement, Violet claimed to have received a telephone call, on a stormy night, from a woman who asked Violet if she saved a baby on the night that the Titanic sank. "Yes," Violet replied. The voice then said "I was that baby," laughed, and hung up. Her friend and biographer John Maxtone-Graham said it was most likely some children in the village playing a joke on her. She replied, "No, John, I had never told that story to anyone before I told you now." Records indicate that the only baby on boat 16 was Assad Thomas, who was handed to Edwinda Troutt, and later reunited with his mother on the Carpathia.
Violet Jessop, often winkingly called "Miss Unsinkable", died of congestive heart failure in 1971 at the age of 83.
In popular culture
In James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster Titanic, a fictional counterpart to Jessop was written in by Cameron, named Lucy. She can first be seen in the background, setting things up in first-class passenger Rose DeWitt Bukater's suite. After the Titanic starts sinking, naval architect Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber) tells her to put her lifebelt on to "set a good example." These are the same instructions given to Jessop (to set a good example for non-English speaking passengers).
This representation closely mirrors a scene in the 1958 Titanic film A Night to Remember, where a stewardess, played by Marianne Stone is addressed by Thomas Andrews (Michael Goodliffe) and instructed to wear her lifebelt.
The character of Jessop is also featured in the stageplay Iceberg – Right Ahead! by Chris Burgess, staged for the first time Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of Titanic. It is billed as 'A dramatic account of the last twelve hours in the life of an 'unsinkable ship'. From the calm afternoon of 14 April 1912 to the rescue by RMS Carpathia on the morning of 15 April'. The role of Violet Jessop was played by Amy Joyce Hastings.
- ^ Brewster, Hugh and Laurie Coulter (1998). 882½ Amazing Answers to your Questions about the Titanic. Madison Press Book. ISBN 0-590-18730-9.
- Maxton-Graham, John (1997). Titanic Survivor. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Sheridan House. p. 59. ISBN 1-57409-184-0.
- Gowan, Phillip. "Miss Violet Constance Jessop". Encyclopedia Titanica. Retrieved September 30, 2005.
- "Violet Constance Jessop, Ship Stewardess". Retrieved September 30, 2005.
- Violet Jessop on Find-A-Grave
- Titanic Crew member profile
- Violet Constance Jessop at Encyclopedia Titanica
- Titanic Survivor by Violet Jessop
- Violet Jessop third from left; with fellow Titanic Stewardesses at Millbay Dock, Plymouth England after return on SS Lapland April 1912(*in PDF with zoomview for enlarging pictures)