Violet Constance Jessop
|Born||2 October 1887|
Bahía Blanca, Argentina
|Died||5 May 1971 (aged 83)|
Great Ashfield, Suffolk, England
|Occupation||Maritime stewardess, nurse|
Violet Constance Jessop (2 October 1887 – 5 May 1971) was an Argentinian ocean liner stewardess, memoirist, and nurse who is known for having survived the sinkings of RMS Titanic in 1912 and her sister ship HMHS Britannic in 1916. In addition, she had been onboard RMS Olympic, the eldest of the three sister ships, when it collided with a British warship, HMS Hawke, in 1911. She is often called the "Queen of sinking ships," as well as "Miss Unsinkable".
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 of 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 to be hired. At age 21, her first stewardess position was with the Royal Mail Line aboard the Orinoco in 1908.
In 1911, Jessop began 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. She continued to work on Olympic until April 1912, when she was transferred to sister ship Titanic.
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 and sank about two hours and forty minutes after the collision. Jessop described in her memoirs how she was ordered up on deck to serve 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 and taken to New York City on April 18. According to Jessop, while on board Carpathia, a woman, presumably the baby's mother, grabbed the baby she was holding and ran off crying, without saying a word. After arriving in New York City, she later returned to Southampton.
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, the younger sister ship of Titanic that had been converted into a hospital ship, when it sank in the Aegean Sea after 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, The Mystery of the Britannic.
Britannic sank within 55 minutes, killing 30 of the 1,066 people on board. British authorities hypothesized that the ship had either been struck by a torpedo or had hit a mine planted by German forces. Conspiracy theories have even circulated that suggest the British were responsible for sinking their own ship.
While Britannic was sinking, Jessop and other passengers were nearly killed by the ship'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." Arthur John Priest and Archie Jewell, two other survivors of the Titanic, were also onboard and both survived.
Jessop returned to work for the White Star Line in 1920.
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 cruises around the world 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 had 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 lifeboat 16 was Assad Thomas, who was handed to Edwina Troutt, and later reunited with his mother on Carpathia.
Jessop, often winkingly called "Miss Unsinkable", died of congestive heart failure in 1971 at the age of 83.
In the 1958 film A Night To Remember, a scene depicts naval architect Thomas Andrews (played by Michael Goodliffe) instructing a stewardess to be seen wearing her life jacket as an example to the other passengers. Several scenes from this film inspired later depictions of the sinking; in James Cameron's later 1997 blockbuster Titanic, a similar encounter takes place involving Andrews and a stewardess named Lucy, who is also told to wear her life jacket in order to convince the passengers to do the same.
In the 2000 television movie Britannic, the main character is Vera Campbell (played by Amanda Ryan), a woman who is apprehensive about travelling on Britannic because she had survived 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 led 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 featured in the Chris Burgess stage play Iceberg – Right Ahead!, staged for the first time Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate, March 2012, to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of Titanic. Jessop's role was played by Amy-Joyce Hastings.
In the 2020 Alma Katsu historical horror novel The Deep, Jessop is a secondary character. The fictional main character meets Jessop while working on the Titanic, who offers her a job and subsequently works with her on the Britannic.