Violet Constance Jessop
Violet Jessop in her Voluntary Aid Detachment uniform while assigned to HMHS Britannic
|Born||2 October 1887|
Bahía Blanca, Argentina
|Died||5 May 1971 (aged 83)|
|Nationality||Irish and Argentine|
|Occupation||Ocean liner stewardess, nurse|
|Parent(s)||William and Katherine (Kelly) Jessop|
Violet Constance Jessop (2 October 1887 – 5 May 1971) was an Irish Argentine ocean liner stewardess and nurse who is known for surviving the disastrous sinkings of both RMS Titanic and her sister ship, HMHS Britannic, in 1912 and 1916, respectively. In addition, she had been on board RMS Olympic, the eldest of the three sister ships, when it collided with a British warship in 1911.
Born on 2 October 1887, near Bahía Blanca, Argentina, Violet Constance Jessop was the oldest daughter of Irish immigrants, William and Katherine Jessop. She was the first of nine children, six of whom survived. Jessop spent much of her childhood caring for her younger siblings. She became very ill as a child with what is presumed to have been tuberculosis, which she survived despite doctors' predictions that her illness would be fatal. When Jessop was 16 years old, her father died due to complications from surgery and her family moved to England, where she attended a convent school and cared for her youngest sister while her mother was at sea working as a stewardess. When her mother became ill, Jessop left school and, following in her mother's footsteps, applied to be a stewardess. Jessop had to dress down to make herself less attractive in order to be hired. At age 21, her first stewardess position was with the Royal Mail Line aboard the Orinoco in 1908.
In 1911, Jessop started working as a stewardess for the White Star vessel RMS Olympic. Olympic was a luxury ship that was the largest civilian liner at that time. Jessop was on board on 20 September 1911, when Olympic left from Southampton and collided with the British warship HMS Hawke. There were no fatalities and despite damage, the ship was able to make it back to port without sinking. Jessop chose not to discuss this collision in her memoirs.
Jessop boarded RMS Titanic as a stewardess on 10 April 1912, at age 24. Four days later, on 14 April, it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic, where Titanic sank a little more than two hours after the collision. Jessop described in her memoirs how 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 Titanic's officers gave her a baby to look after. The next morning, Jessop and the rest of the survivors were rescued by the RMS Carpathia. According to Jessop, while on board Carpathia, a woman, presumably the baby's mother, grabbed the baby she was holding and ran off with it without saying a word.
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 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. During a major diving expedition on the wreck in 2016 it was determined that the ship had struck a deep sea mine. This was shown in the documentary film of that dive, entitled The Mystery of the Britannic.
Britannic sank within 55 minutes, killing 30 out of the 1,066 people on board. British authorities hypothesized that the ship was either struck by a torpedo or hit a mine planted by German forces. Conspiracy theories have even 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 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 resulting in a traumatic head injury which she survived. In her memoirs, she described the scene she witnessed as 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."
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After the war, Jessop 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, Jessop went on two around the world cruises on the company's largest ship, Belgenland. In her late thirties, Jessop had a brief marriage, and in 1950 she retired to Great Ashfield, Suffolk. Years after her retirement, Jessop claimed to have received a telephone call, on a stormy night, from a woman who asked Jessop if she saved a baby on the night that Titanic sank. "Yes," Jessop 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 Edwina Troutt, and later reunited with his mother on Carpathia.
In popular culture
In the 1958 film A Night To Remember, a scene depicts naval architect Thomas Andrews (Michael Goodliffe) instructing a stewardess to be seen wearing her lifebelt as an example to the other passengers. Many scenes from this film inspired similar and in some cases, almost dialogue-identical scenes in James Cameron's later 1997 blockbuster Titanic, including a similar scene between Andrews and a stewardess named Lucy. She can also be seen earlier in this film, setting things up in the background of first-class passenger Rose DeWitt Bukater's suite.
In Britannic, a TV movie made in the year 2000, the main character is Vera Campbell, played by Amanda Ryan, a woman apprehensive about travelling on Britannic due to surviving the sinking of Titanic four years earlier. This character background is almost certainly lifted from the real-life Jessop, who survived both sinkings.
In 2006, 'Shadow Divers' John Chatterton and Richie Kohler lead an expedition to dive HMHS Britannic. The dive team needed to accomplish a number of tasks including reviewing the expansion joints. The team was looking for evidence that would change the thinking on RMS Titanic's sinking. During the expedition, Rosemary E. Lunn played the role of Violet Jessop, re-enacting her jumping into the water, from her lifeboat which was being drawn into Britannic's still turning propellers.
The character of Jessop is also featured in the stage play 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 was 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'. Jessop's role was played by Amy-Joyce Hastings.
- Damon, Duane (April 2012). "Angel of the White Star Violet Jessop". Cobblestone. Vol. 33 no. 4. p. 16.
- Kaplan, David A.; Underwood, Anne (25 November 1996). "The iceberg cometh". Newsweek. Vol. 128 no. 22.
- Jessop, Violet; Maxton-Graham, John (1997). Titanic Survivor. Dobbs Ferry, New York: Sheridan House. ISBN 1-57409-184-0.
- "Violet Jessop Biography". Biography.com. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
- Solomon Reid, Deborah (1 January 1998). "Titanic survivor: the newly discovered memoirs of Violet Jessop who survived both the Titanic and Britannic disasters". The Women's Review of Books. 15: 9.
- Stanley, Jo (April 2000). "With Cutlass and Compress: Women's Relations with the Sea". Gender & History. 12 (1): 232–236. ISSN 0953-5233.
- Upton, Emily (28 January 2014). "The woman who survived all three disasters aboard the sister ships: The Titanic, Britannic, and Olympic". Today I Found Out.com. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
- Protasio, John (2012). "A Titanic Centennial". Naval History. 26 (2): 48.
- Gleick, Elizabeth; Carassava, Anthee (26 October 1998). "Deep Secrets". Time International (South Pacific Edition). No. 43. p. 72.
- Wynn, Stephen; Wynn, Tanya (31 May 2017). Women in the Great War. Pen & Sword Books Limited. p. 87. ISBN 978-1-4738-6542-6.
- Jessop, Violet (4 April 2012). Titanic Survivor. Sheridan House. p. 224. ISBN 978-1-4617-4032-2.
- "Remembering Britannic's Violet Jessop". The Underwater Marketing Company. 21 November 2016. Retrieved 14 August 2017.
- "Iceberg – Right Ahead!". Ovation Theatres. Retrieved 14 August 2017.
- Violet Jessop at Find a Grave
- "Violet Constance Jessop". Encyclopedia Titanica.
- "England via Plymouth" (PDF). Plymouth.gov.uk. p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 June 2015.
Violet Jessop third from left; with fellow Titanic Stewardesses at Millbay Dock, Plymouth England after return on SS Lapland April 1912