The Unsinkable Violet Jessop

Colored photograph of Violet Jessop, survivor of the Titanic.
Colored photograph of Violet Jessop, survivor of the Titanic. / Javier Gómez, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

If you survived an ocean liner crash, you’d consider yourself extremely lucky. If you survived that crash and the 1912 RMS Titanic disaster, you’d probably start thinking about avoiding water-based transportation. And if you made it through all of that only to find yourself aboard the sinking HMHS Britannic just four years later, you might start wondering if you were the angel of death. This is the story of Violet Constance Jessop.

Violet Jessop Survives the Titanic

Even before her days as an ocean liner stewardess, Jessop was no stranger to cheating death. Six of her eight siblings died young, and she was nearly number seven—she managed to survive a bout of tuberculosis that doctors said would kill her.

Jessop was 23 when she got a job on the RMS Olympic, the largest civilian liner of the day. She had served for just three months when she experienced her first maritime crash: The Olympic collided with the HMS Hawke. Neither ship sank; in fact, both were later repaired and put back into service.

Such was not the case with Jessop’s next wreck. She was falling asleep when the RMS Titanic met its infamous iceberg, but quickly found her place on deck to help guide confused passengers. She was eventually placed on lifeboat #16, where someone thrust a baby into her arms just before the boat launched. The baby was reunited with its mother aboard the RMS Carpathia, which came to the aid of the Titanic.

Another Miraculous Survival

It was the HMHS Britannic crash of 1916 that nearly killed Jessop, who was serving on the ship as a stewardess for the British Red Cross. After hitting a mine, the HMHS Britannic started sinking. Jessop jumped overboard and was nearly sucked into the boat’s propellers, which were sticking up out of the water and still running. She hit her head on the ship’s keel and would have died, had the passengers of another lifeboat not been able to pull her in.

There was, however, one silver lining to this crash: In the days after the RMS Titanic sunk, Jessop vividly remembered desperately missing her toothbrush. This time, she had remembered to grab it before her leap overboard.

Despite her many mishaps, Jessop continued to serve at sea until 1950. Upon her retirement, the 63-year-old wrote her rather remarkable memoir. And though she had more brushes with a watery grave than any one person should have to endure, her death at the age of 84 was due to congestive heart failure—not shipwreck.