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THE UNSINKABLE - Violet Jessop

Violet Jessop was indeed a remarkable individual with a series of fortunate escapes from shipping disasters during her career at sea. She is often referred to as the "Unsinkable" Violet Jessop due to her survival in these incidents. While it can be seen as luck, it's also worth noting her resilience and the circumstances that led her to be present during these incidents.

Violet Jessop was born in Argentina in 1887 to Irish immigrant parents. As a child, she contracted tuberculosis and was given a grim prognosis, but she miraculously survived. Later, in 1908, after her father's death and her mother's illness, she left her convent school to support her family.

Violet Jessop C1915

Photographer unknown

Seeking employment, Violet decided to follow in her mother's footsteps and became a stewardess in the ocean liner industry. However, at the age of 21, she faced difficulties finding a job due to her youth and good looks. Shipping employers were concerned that these qualities might create issues with the crew and passengers. In order to overcome this obstacle, she deliberately dressed frumpily, wore shabby clothes, and avoided makeup for her interview. This helped her secure a position as a stewardess.

RMS Orinoco 1886-1909

1st steel vessel to be built for RMSP Co. for Southampton-West Indies service.

21/11/1906 collided with Norddeutscher Lloyd's KAISER WILHELM DER GROSSE off Cherbourg, 4 passengers on the German vessel were killed, and three crew of ORINOCO lost when a lifeboat capsized.

She initially joined the Royal Mail Line and sailed on RMS Orinoco for a short stint before she was hired by the luxurious White Star Line to serve aboard Majestic. During her time at sea, Violet Jessop experienced three notable shipping disasters and managed to survive each one.

The first was the collision of the RMS Olympic, a sister ship of the ill-fated RMS Titanic, with the HMS Hawke in 1911. Despite sustaining damage, the Olympic remained afloat, and Violet Jessop survived the incident.

RMS Olympic

In 1912 The White Star Line was looking for crew to cater for VIP’s on their luxurious new ship The Titanic. Violet took a job on the unsinkable ship. On 15th April 1912, Titanic hit an iceberg. Around 1500 lost their lives as Titanic went down.

For the second time, she escaped with her life onboard Lifeboat 16.

In her memoirs she recalls.

“I was ordered up on deck. Calmly, passengers strolled about. I stood at the bulkhead with the other stewardesses, watching the women cling to their husbands before being put into the boats with their children. Sometime after, a ship’s officer ordered us into the boat first to show some women it was safe,”

The lifeboat was rescued by Carpathia. Whilst on the lifeboat she was handed a baby to care for. On reaching the Carpathia a woman grabbed the baby from her arms and ran off without saying a word. Violet later learned that the Mother left her baby during the rescue.

Years later she got a call from a lady claiming to be that baby and thanking her for saving her life during the disaster.

As they say, disasters always run in threes and they certainly did for Violet Jessop. Having survived Titanic you would imagine that she had had enough of the sea, but no such thing. Her next job was on Britannic as a nurse for the British Red Cross. The ship was operating in the Aegean Sea transferring wounded soldiers back to Great Britain during World War I. The ship ran into a mine planted by a German U-boat. Britannia was damaged and started to sink. Unable to reach a lifeboat Violet jumped overboard. She later wrote.

“I leapt into the water but was sucked under the ship’s keel which struck my head. I escaped, but years later when I went to my doctor because of a lot of headaches, he discovered I had once sustained a fracture of the skull!”

So, while Violet Jessop's story is filled with incredible instances of surviving shipping disasters, it is not solely a result of luck. Her resilience, skills, and the circumstances she found herself in contributed to her remarkable escapes.

After surviving all these disasters she was still not deterred and continued to work at sea until she retired in 1950 to Great Ashfield in Suffolk. Violet Jessop died at the age of 83 in 1971

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