Violet Jessop (October 1st, 1887 - May 5th, 1971) was a stewardess on the Titanic, and a nurse on the Britannic. She had worked on all three Olympic-class ships, and she survived all three major incidents with each of them: The collision of the RMS Olympic with the HMS Hawke, the sinking of the Titanic, and the sinking of the HMHS Britannic.
Early life[edit | edit source]
She was the first child of Irish emigrants William and Katherine (Kelly) Jessop. Her father was a sheep farmer and she had five younger brothers and sisters. As a child Violet contracted Tuberculosis, Doctors gave her only months to live but she managed to overcome the disease.
When her father died in Mendoza the family returned to Britain, her mother found a job as a stewardess for the Royal Mail Line while Violet attended convent school. When her mother's health deteriorated Violet gave up school to became a stewardess herself, first with the Royal Mail Line, then later with White Star.
White Star Line & Olympic[edit | edit source]
Violet didn't want to work for White Star because she didn't like the idea of sailing the North Atlantic run due to the weather conditions, and she had heard stories about the demanding passengers on that run.
Nevertheless Violet, who had grey-blue eyes, auburn hair and spoke with an Irish accent became a stewardess for the White Star Line working 17 hours a day, and being paid £2 10s. per month. She served on board the Olympic before joining the Titanic and was aboard the Olympic when she was in collision with HMS Hawke in 1911. Violet was happy on the Olympic and didn't really want to join the Titanic but was persuaded by her friends who thought it would be a 'wonderful experience'. So Violet, 'dressed in a new ankle-length brown suit' set out in a horse-drawn cab to join the brand new ship at her berth in Southampton.
Among the people she mentioned in her memoirs was Thomas Andrews and, like all other crew members it seems, she greatly admired him. Mr Andrews was the only person who seemed to heed the requests of the crew for improvements in the crew's quarters. The stewards and stewardesses were quite pleased with their quarters on the Titanic. "Often during our rounds we came upon our beloved designer going about unobtrusively with a tired face but a satisfied air. He never failed to stop for a cheerful word, his only regret that we were 'getting further from home.' We all knew the love he had for that Irish home of his and suspected that he longed to get back to the peace of its atmosphere for a much needed rest and to forget ship designing for awhile." Violet claims to have been friends with Scottish violinist Jock Hume, one of the few people working on the ship whom she identifies by his real name.
She said that it was her habit to take in the fresh air on deck before retiring for the night, and that "If the sun did fail to shine so brightly on the fourth day out, and if the little cold nip crept into the air as evening set in, it only served to emphasize the warmth and luxuriousness within."
In her memoirs she says that on Titanic's maiden voyage she brought a copy of a translated Hebrew prayer that an old Irish woman had given her. Upon settling down in her bunk she found that prayer and read it, then made her roommate read it. (Presumably, according to editor John Maxtone-Graham, her roommate was stewardess Elizabeth Leather.) It was a strangely worded prayer that Violet says was supposed to protect her against fire and water. Violet was a devout Catholic who carried a rosary in her apron and believed strongly in the power of prayer.
Sinking of the Titanic[edit | edit source]
Violet wrote that she was "comfortably drowsy" in her bunk, but not quite asleep when the collision occurred.
When the Titanic was sinking, Violet was ordered on deck to 'function as an example of how to behave for the non-English speakers who could not follow the instructions given to them'. In other words: she had to show non-English people what they had to do because they didn't understand the English instructions they were given.
She watched as the crew loaded the lifeboats.
She was later ordered into lifeboat 16, and, as the boat was being lowered, one of the Titanic's officers gave her a baby to look after. The next morning, Violet and the rest of the survivors were rescued by the RMS Carpathia. According to Violet, while on board the Carpathia, a woman grabbed the baby she was holding and ran off with it without saying a word, whom was probably the mother.
Phone call of 'the baby'[edit | edit source]
Years after her retirement in 1950, Violet claimed to have received a telephone call, on a stormy night, from a woman who asked Violet if she saved a baby on the night that the Titanic sank. "Yes," Violet replied. The voice then said "I was that baby," laughed, and hung up. Her friend, and biographer John Maxtone-Graham said it was most likely some children in the village playing a joke on her. She replied, "No, John, I had never told that story to anyone before I told you now." Records indicate that the only baby on boat 16 was Assad Thomas, who was handed to Edwina Celia Troutt, and later reunited with his mother on the Carpathia. Assad died in 1931 at the age of 19 after contracting pneumonia.
Violet died of congestive heart failure in 1971 at the age of 83.
Portrayals[edit | edit source]
Well the passengers musn't think i'm scared.
—Stewardess to Thomas Andrews
In A Night to Remember, a young stewardess portrayed by actress Etain O'Dell may be based on Violet Jessop. She appear during the passenger evacuation process, Thomas Andrews asked the stewardess why she wasn't wearing her life belt, the stewardess replied: "Well the passengers mustn't think I'm scared". Andrews then instructed her to wear her life belt in order to become an example for passengers, and of course for her own safety as well.
Oh, do go back to bed! That's right. There's nothing whatever to worry about! Nothing!
—Violet Jessop to the passengers
In S.O.S. Titanic, Jessop is depicted as an elderly third-class stewardess, instead of being a first-class stewardess who is about 24 years old. She was portrayed by actress Madge Ryan.
She first appears during boarding in Queenstown, where she leaded third-class single ladies to their cabins. She then calmed Kate Gilnagh and Kate Mullins who were surprised to hear a loud sound, which they thought was an explosion. Jessop acknowledged that it was the sound of the engine starting and the ship was about to depart.
During the voyage, she became friends with stewardess Mary Sloan, where they together took care of the passengers' clothes. She also gave Thomas Andrews a few slices of bread during his visit to the linen room.
When the Titanic sank, Jessop was unaware of the instructions, and instead told the passengers to return to their cabins, saying there was nothing to worry about. But steward John Hart came and gave new instructions, namely to get the passengers to put on their life belts and get to the deck. Jessop agreed and started instructing the passengers.
In the Third Class General Room, she and Hart tried to explain to the passengers that Hart would be taking a large group of women and children onto the boat deck. Jessop is seen calming a crying little girl, she also tries to tell the men to stay back.
Jessop and Hart reappear during the loading of Collapsible D, they help the women board the boat before it is Jessop's turn to get on the boat in the end.