Happy Birthday, Violet Jessop!

Known as the Queen of Sinking Ships, Violet Constance Jessop survived not one but three historical maritime accidents and sinkings of the White Star Liner Company.

Born in Argentina on October 2, 1887, to Irish immigrants William and Katherine Jessop Violet was the first of nine children, one of six to survive. As a young child, Violet contracted tuberculosis, and through a stroke of sheer luck, she survived, despite the doctor’s assumption that her illness would be fatal as most cases of tuberculosis are. In her mid-teens, Violet’s father died from surgical complications, and her mother moved the family to England, where Violet would attend school before following in her mother’s footsteps to become a stewardess. At the age of 21, Violet would get her first stewardess position with the Royal Mail Line in 1908 before joining the White Star Liner Company in 1911.

Violet Jessop in a nurses uniform

Serial Shipwrecks

Her first ship incident with White Star Liner Company was the RMS Olympic, which was a luxury ship and the largest passenger liner in the world pre-World War I, and where Violet served as a stewardess. This is where her soon-to-be title of Queen of Sinking Ships began. On September 20, 1911, the RMS Olympic would collide with the warship HMS Hawke while traveling through the Solent Strait in Great Britain. Fortunately, it was a mild incident, and the Olympic was able to return to port for repairs. There was no loss of life from the accident.

Violet would transfer vessels and join its sister ship, the unsinkable RMS Titanic, also as a stewardess in 1912. The fateful night of April 14, Violet was in bed when she felt the ship jolt, hitting the iceberg. Jessop says,

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. Some time after, a ship’s officer ordered us into the boat (16) first to show some women it was safe. As the boat was being lowered, the officer called: ‘Here, Miss Jessop. Look after this baby.’ And a bundle was dropped on to my lap”.

1,500 out of 2,200 people died on the Titanic. 8 hours after it sunk, the RMS Carpathia rescued Violet and the other survivors on the lifeboats. After arriving in New York, Violet would return to England to continue to work for White Star.

Third Time’s the Charm

After WWI began, Violet joined the HMHS Britannic (sister to the Titanic, converted into a medical ship) as a stewardess for the British Red Cross. The ship was sailing in the Aegean Sea when suddenly the ship hit a mine in the water. The Britannic handled more efficiently than the Titanic, mistakes were still made. As the ship began to list to the side after filling with water, there was confusion in deploying the lifeboats. Two lifeboats (one holding Violet) were deployed without order, and that is where the horror began.

With the position of the ship, the propellors were mostly out of the water, but were still able to spin and caused a vacuum sucking in the two lifeboats. Violet watched as the first boat and passengers were sucked into the propellor, instantly shredded and chopped to bits. Violet’s boat was on the same course, so she had to choose between drowning or evisceration.

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!

While this was not as disastrous as the Titanic, 30 people lost their lives to the propellors.


Violet would recover from her head injury and, to no surprise, returned to White Star Line yet again. However, Jessop did change companies for the Royal Mail Line, where she worked until her retirement in 1950 at the age of 61. Violet would marry, though it was short-lived and ended in divorce with no children. She would die at the age of 84 from congestive heart failure in 1971. Her story aboard the Titanic and Britannic would be told in multiple films and television shows. Appearing in James Cameron’s Titanic as the stewardess convincing people to wear a life vest. Her story can be read in the memoir Titanic Survivor she wrote during her 30s, but was published posthumously.

Violet Jessop, Queen of Sinking Ships and Oral Hygiene

While her story is remarkable, there is one funny story Violet shares in her book and interviews; her toothbrush story. One of her quirks was the constantly cleaning of her teeth, brushing multiple times daily. She left all her personal belongings on the ship during the sinking of the Titanic, and while aboard the Carpathia, all she wanted to do was brush her teeth, but had no toothbrush. After that experience, she would not go anywhere without one. In her interview, she says, “for god’s sake, if the boat is going to sink, put a toothbrush in your pocket.”

Violet did indeed grab a toothbrush during the Britannic rescue, being transported back to a hotel with the ship survivors. As she was in her room brushing her teeth,

there was a knock on the door, and the sister matron opened it, she didn’t say ‘Oh Miss Jessop, I’m glad to see you’re alive’ she said ‘where did you get that,’ and I said ‘I brought it with me’.”

And apparently, the sister matron left and slammed the door and didn’t speak to her again. So, if we learned anything from a multi-ship survivor like Violet Jessop, always bring your toothbrush.


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