Friday, April 5, 2013


As any old sea dog will tell you, it’s unlucky to have a woman on board ship.

(Unless the woman is naked, apparently. Sailors make up the best superstitions.)

But in the case of Violet Jessop, you’d have to say the old sea dogs have a point.

Violet started life as a landlubber, her parents were Irish sheep farmers living in Bahia Blanca in Argentine. 

Violet was a born survivor - three of her nine siblings did not live beyond infancy. 

She herself developed tuberculosis when she was a child and doctors said she would die. But she didn’t.  

As events would later prove, Violet was pretty much unsinkable.

When her father died, her mother took Violet and her family back to England. When Violet left school she joined the navy, to see the sea.

When she was 23, she sailed on the RMS Olympic as a stewardess. 

At that time the Olympic was the world’s largest luxury liner and was under the command of Captain Edward Smith. 

Three months after Violet stepped on board the Olympic collided with the cruiser HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight. 

The RN blamed the Olympic for the crash, but stopped short of blaming Jessop personally.

Taking this as a warning, Violet decided to sail next on something unsinkable.  

The Titanic. 

The Olympic and Titanic before Violet got to work

She rubbed shoulders with Jack and Rose for just four days before her luck ran out again. 

After the ship hit the iceberg, Violet was ordered up on deck to set an example ‘to the foreign speaking people.’

The Irish?

She was ordered into lifeboat 16, and it was from there that she watched the Titanic go down, - all the while thinking: ‘there’s a great idea for a movie in this somewhere.’  

She was rescued the next morning by the Carpathia.

A lesser soul would have given up seafaring but Violet was made of sterner stuff. 

Besides, it was obvious where the problem lay. The captain on the Olympic and the Titanic was Captain Edward Smith. 

Clearly, he was the problem.

So Violet, fairly confident her bad run was done, joined up on His Majesty’s Hospital Ship Brittania just in time for World War One - and you guessed it, it hit a mine in 1916 and sank in the Aegean in 1916.

just another day at the office for Violet
She grabbed her toothbrush from her cabin - she was an old hand at being sunk, and apparently she always said her toothbrush was the one thing she missed when the Titanic went down (the one thing??) 

Despite being sucked under the water and striking her head on the ship’s keel she somehow surfaced and was rescued by a lifeboat. 

Years later, when she complained to a doctor about headaches, it was discovered she had fractured her skull.

Having gone down with the ship three times in five years a lesser soul might have looked for a job on dry land. 

Not Violet. She continued to work for the White Star and Red Star lines after the war. 

Neptune had done his best, and gave up trying to scuttle her. She spent the next thirty years at sea without further mishap and made her last voyage when she was 63.

The unsinkable Violet Jessop lived to a grand old age of 84, finally foundering in 1971.

Some wags would have you believe she was finally buried at sea. Not true. Violet was buried in Hartest, in Suffolk, England 

Colin Falconer is the author of the internationally bestselling CLEOPATRA, DAUGHTER OF THE NILE and over twenty other novels. 

See more history from Colin Falconer at  


From History and Women


Anonymous said...

I think the first sinking would have kept me on land. Interesting read. I also think burial at sea would have been something she would have liked, although after three sinkings and a fractured skull that might have been it.
Thanks for sharing.

Marg said...

Poor woman! I would have probably stopped sailing after the first sinking!