The Unsinkable Violet Jessop
If you survived an ocean liner crash, you’d consider yourself extremely lucky. If you survived that crash and the 1912 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.
Even before her days as an ocean liner stewardess, Violet 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 with tuberculosis that doctors said would kill her.
Violet 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 Violet’s next wreck. She was sleeping when the 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. Thankfully, the baby was reunited with its mother aboard the Carpathia,which came to the aid of the Titanic.
It was the Britannic crash of 1916 that nearly ended Violet. After hitting a mine, the Britannic started going down fast. Violet 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 been a goner had the passengers of another lifeboat not been able to pull her in. But there was a silver lining: In the days after the Titanic sunk, Violet 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.