Surviving Shipwreck Three Times

People think they are lucky when surviving ship wreck. What to say about Violet Jessop who survived no less than three major disasters on sea? Would you have gone back onto a ship after surviving the sinking of the RMS Titanic? Would you have gone onto the RMS Titanic in the first place after being in the collision of the RMS Olympic? And would your ship of choice have been the HMHS Britannic? Violet Jessop did all that.

Violet Jessop

Violet Jessop was born in 1887 into an Irish family living in Argentina. There, she contracted and survived tuberculosis as a child. After the death of her father, the family moved to England. Her mother started working as a stewardess to provide for the large family. To be able to do this, she had to place her four sons in an orphanage and her two daughters in a convent school.

RMS Clyde

When Violet Jessop’s mother’s health started to fail and she couldn't work anymore, Violet dropped out of school. She took the first step in her extraordinary life when starting out as a ship stewardess on the RMS Orinoco, a Royal Mail liner. She continued to work for the Royal Mail Line on the RMS Oruba, the RMS Danube, and the RMS Clyde. In 1910, she was hired by the White Star Line to work on board of the SS Majestic.

RMS Oceanic

After further stints on the Adriatic and the second RMS Oceanic, she was transferred to the newly built RMS Olympic upon completion. When the RMS Olympic collided with the HMS Hawke in 1911, she was therefore working on board the liner. Both ships managed to limp into port under their own steam despite heavy damage. There were no lives were lost in the incident. Violet Jessop was unfazed by the accident, and she went back to work on the RMS Olympic after repairs were completed. A year later, she joined the crew on the White Star Line's latest new build RMS Titanic.

RMS Olympic

Violet Jessop was not yet asleep when the RMS Titanic hit the infamous iceberg and she was ordered up on deck from her cabin. Together with other stewardesses, she was ordered into a lifeboat to show passengers that they were safe to do so. Someone thrust a baby at her in the last moment, and together with that unknown baby she was later taken aboard the RMS Carpathia.

RMS Titanic

Some people would have called it quits at that point and started looking for a land bound employment. I know I would. Not so Violet Jessop. She was back on board of the RMS Olympic by June of the same year 1912. Except for a stint on the P&O’s RMS Malwa, she continued working on the RMS Olympic until the Great War began.

RMS Majestic

In 1914, Violet Jessop began training as a nurse (V.A.D.). The White Star Line's second RMS Britannic was at the same time refitted as a hospital ship. HMHS Britannic was the latest sister ship to both the ill-fated RMS Olympic and the RMS Titanic. Nurse Violet Jessop joined the hospital ship's crew on November 12th 1916. The HMHS Britannic had done four successful runs in the Mediterranean since December 6th 1915.

HMHS Britannic

Violet Jessop was on board little more than a week when HMHS Britannic hit a German mine on November 21st 1916. Almost all internet sites dealing with that particular incident put Violet Jessop on the first lifeboat to be lowered (too early). That particular lifeboat was caught in the still running propeller of HMHS Britannic causing it to sink with many of its passengers injured. Some even attribute Violet Jessop with a broken shoulder from that accident. This story is anecdotal and not based on any fact. Violet Jessop jumped over board of the fast sinking ship and hit her head on the rump in the process. It would be years until it turned out she had broken her skull when jumping ship, and never been treated for it.

RMS Malwa

This time round, Violet Jessop is kept land bound first due to waiting for repatriation in 1917. She then worked ashore until 1920, when she returned to work on the RMS Olympic. Leaving the RMS Olympic upon the commissioning of the RMS Majestic (the former SS Bismarck), she continued to work as a stewardess until the outbreak of the Second World War. 

If you are interested in reading her story in her own unexcited and understated words, her autobiography was edited by John Maxtone-Graham and published by Sutton in 1997.

Further reading