The Curious Case of Violet Jessop
I'm not sure what it's like for other reporters, but I sometimes interview people whose experiences leave me in awe. I can be scribbling (or typing) away, looking somewhat professional, but inside I'm be thinking, I can’t believe how lucky I am to be hearing this story!
I hope that’s what it was like for anyone lucky enough to interview a woman who died in 1971 at the age of 83. Her name was Violet Jessop and her story is extraordinary.
Violet was born in October 1887 to Irish immigrants living in Argentina. Violet spent much of her childhood looking after her younger siblings. When she was 16, her father died and her mother went to sea, working as a ship stewardess. When her mother became ill, Violet became a stewardess herself. Her first position was aboard the Orinoco, part of the Royal Mail Line.
In 1911, Violet’s next job took her to the RMS Olympic, a White Star fleet ship. One can only imagine how exciting it must have been for the young woman to work on a ship so large and luxurious. On September 20, 1911, shortly after Violet began her new job, the Olympic collided with the British warship HMS Hawke. Despite damage to the ship, there were no fatalities.
It appears that Violet was no worse for the wear because in 1912 at the age of 24, Violet was ready to work on another ship. She began her job as a stewardess aboard the RMS Titanic on April 10th. Four days later, that great ship struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic, sinking in a little over two hours. Later, Violet recounted watching as lifeboats were loaded with terrified passengers and being ordered into a lifeboat herself. As Violet’s boat was lowered into the Atlantic, she says an officer handed her a baby to look after.
Along with the rest of the survivors, Jessup was rescued by the RMS Carpathia the next morning. While on that ship, Violet recalls a woman grabbing the baby from her arms and running off with it. She could only surmise that the woman was the child's mother.
At this point, it's fair to assume that most people would seek a job on dry land, but Violet was not ready to give up.
During World War 1, Violet served as a nurse for the British Red Cross aboard the HMHS Britannic, another White Star vessel, now converted into a hospital ship. On the morning of November 21, 1916, an unexplained explosion rocked the Britannic, causing it to sink within 55 minutes. British authorities believed it to be a torpedo strike from a German ship.
Miraculously, only 30 people out of the 1,066 aboard perished during the sinking. This time though, Violet did not escape unscathed. While the ship was sinking, Violet and other passengers were nearly killed as the Britannic’s propellers sucked their lifeboats under the stern. Violet jumped out of her lifeboat, receiving a serious head injury in the process.
A CURIOUS DECISION
And still, she longed to be at sea. Violet worked for several shipping lines, retiring in 1950 at the age of 63.
It’s difficult to decide what is most peculiar about Violet Jessop’s story. Was it the fact that she lived through three of the most famous incidents in shipping history or that none of them were enough to scare her away from the job she loved?