Miss Violet Constance Jessop, 24, of 71 Shirley Road, Bedford Park, London was born in the pampas near Bahia Blanca, Argentina, 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.
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 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. (Presumable, 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. Violet wrote that she was "comfortably drowsy" in her bunk, but not quite asleep when the collision occurred.
''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.''
After eight hours in the boat Violet and the others were picked up by the Carpathia:
''I was still clutching the baby against my hard cork lifebelt I was wearing when a woman leaped at me and grabbed the baby, and rushed off with it, it appeared that she put it down on the deck of the Titanic while she went off to fetch something, and when she came back the baby had gone. I was too frozen and numb to think it strange that this woman had not stopped to say 'thank you'.
Violet served as a nurse with the British Red Cross during World War One and was on-board the Britannic when that vessel was sunk in the Aegean in 1916. Violet attributed her rescue from the sinking of the Britannic to her thick auburn hair:
''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!''
In her late 30's she had "a brief and disastrous" marriage but the name of the husband has long eluded all researchers*. They had no children.
Miss Jessop retired to a sixteenth-century thatched cottage in Great Ashfield, Suffolk. She filled her home with mementoes of her forty two years at sea and looked after laying hens and her garden. She was interviewed for Woman Magazine (19th July 1958) when the film A Night to Remember was released in 1958.
Phillip Gowan, USA
Senan Molony, Ireland
Violet Jessop (1997) Titanic Survivor: The Memoirs of Violet Jessop, Stewardess. Sutton. ISBN 0 7509 1758 X
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