It is hard to say whether there is any such thing as good or bad luck. Such things are beyond our ability to accurately measure to any meaningful degree, but most people can agree that there seem to definitely be those people who seem to be luckier or unluckier than most. These are the people who seem to defy all odds, bearing the brunt of all manner of things that can only be attributed to coincidence or luck. One person from history who seems to have been touched by fate to some degree is a woman who managed to be aboard several high seas disasters, which she survived and were notable enough that she has earned herself the title of “The Unsinkable Woman.”
Violet Constance Jessop was born on October 2, 1887 to Irish immigrants near Bahía Blanca, Argentina, and she had a bit of a rough childhood. The first born in her family, she would have a total of nine further siblings, although only six of these would survive past childhood, and her own childhood would be marred by a serious illness, thought to have been tuberculosis, which almost killed her. Her father died when she was 16, after which her family moved to England and she spent most of her time attending a convent school and taking care of her younger siblings when her mother left to work as a ship stewardess, a career path that she herself would later pursue. She would get a job as a stewardess at the Royal Mail Line aboard the vessel Orinoco in 1908, and so would begin her strange adventures.
In 1910, Violet became a stewardess with another company, the White Star Line, where she served aboard the luxury vessel Olympic, which in its day was the largest civilian liner on the water. It was aboard the Olympic where she would have her first harrowing experience at sea, when they collided with a British warship HMS Hawke in 1911. Luckily, there were no fatalities and both ships came out of it with just some minor damage, but this was not to be the last of Violet’s close calls out on the sea. Although she was shaken by her experience aboard the Olympic she continued to work as a stewardess, and her next assignment was aboard a little vessel you might have heard about called the RMS Titanic.
Launched in 1912, in its day the RMS Titanic truly lived up to its name. It was the largest ship that had ever been afloat up until then, and was considered to be the most advanced as well, with no expense spared in its construction and sumptuous luxuries. With cutting edge safety features, such as watertight compartments and remotely activated watertight doors, it was considered to be invincible, nicknamed “The Unsinkable Ship.” The first class passengers had access to all manner of amenities and state-of-the-art facilities, including a gymnasium, swimming pool, high-class restaurants, and opulent cabins like nothing else available at the time. It was a groundbreaking technological marvel and the epitome of comfort and luxury in its day, and so when it launched on April 15, 1912 on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City, the RMS Titanic did so to great fanfare, the ship carrying some of the wealthiest people in the world. Aboard were an estimated 2,224 passengers and crew, with one of these being Violet Jessop.
It is beyond the scope of this article to go into all of the finer points of what happened aboard that fateful maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. All you need to know is that it hit an iceberg, resulting in its sinking to take the lives of 1,500 people and become one of the deadliest maritime disasters of all time. Interestingly, on the night of the disaster, Violet had just recited a prayer that an old Irish woman had given her, which was meant to protect her from “fire and water.” Whether this had a hand in protecting her from the tragedy that was to unfold or not, she says of that evening:
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 lifeboat 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.
A woman would end up whisking the baby off, presumably its mother, and the next morning a vessel called the RMS Carpathia would save them and bring them to safety. Violet was incredibly lucky to have made it out of the disaster in one piece, but even this would not be the end of her hairy ordeals. When World War I came around, she found herself serving aboard a ship called the HMHS Britannic, which was weirdly the younger sister ship of the RMS Titanic, which had been converted into a medical vessel. A mere 55 minutes after it set out for duty the Britannic was rocked by a mysterious explosion as it sailed through the Aegean Sea. The ship sank, killing 30 of the 1,066 people on board, and it was speculated that it had been either an enemy torpedo or a mine. As the boat sank, Violet and other survivors rushed to the lifeboats, allegedly almost killed by the ship’s propellers in the process, resulting in her receiving a major head injury, which she luckily survived. Then the vessel sank, of which she would later write:
The white pride of the ocean’s medical world … dipped her head a little, then a little lower and still lower. All the deck machinery fell into the sea like a child’s toys. Then she took a fearful plunge, her stern rearing hundreds of feet into the air until with a final roar, she disappeared into the depths.
In her later years, Violet would continue to work for the White Star Line, also moving on to work for other lines, eventually completing two around the world cruises on the company’s largest ship, Belgenland. She would briefly marry and then retire to the village of Great Ashfield, Suffolk, before going on to die of natural causes on May 5, 1971, aged 83. During her retirement years she was supposedly briefly contacted by the grown baby who she had saved aboard the RMS Titanic, although this cannot be verified. It is incredible that this one woman just happened to be present for all of these incidents and tragedies. Was she the luckiest woman or the unluckiest? It is hard to say, and it remains a curious historical oddity.