Servants at Sea: Violet Jessop

The following information was taken from Titanic Survivor: The Newly Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop Who Survived both the Titanic and Britannic Disasters, by Violet Jessop. Sheridan House Inc., New York 1997)

Travel was a huge part of the lives of most wealthy Victorian families. While at sea, they expected a high level of service. Life for ship stewards and stewardesses was not much easier than their counterparts on land. One stewardess who served on Titanic wrote in her memoirs about life serving at sea.

Violet Jessop decided on a life at sea when her mother became ill. Violet was around 20 at the time and at least one shipping executive was concerned that she was too young and pretty for the job.

Despite those concerns, Violet began her career that year, 1908, on a Royal Mail Line ship sailing to the West Indies. In those early days she feared being dismissed a fear intensified, she said, by someone’s speculation that she would not last more than one trip.

“The nights did not compensate for the day’s fatigue, as I could not get used to the narrow, short bunk in my tiny cabin perched above the ship’s propellers.” She was homesick and longed for affection and sympathy.

Violet said she noticed that the younger workers were given the heaviest labor, often so monotonous, so soul-grinding as to overcast any young dreams. And there was never a shortage, she said, of older crew members to criticize the younger staff. Yet she persevered.  “You were faced with a paradox of being considerably overworked and yet much happier and free because of their attitude.”

“Life on board was a sequence of jars, which at times hurt deeply, yet it was teeming with interest and, because I was built that way, with limitless hope. Every new place and different character was fresh ground to explore so the racking weariness of limb and feet was often forgotten; there was little time for self-pity if I wanted to absorb everything.”

In September 1910 Violet moved to the White Star Line, a company she considered not so attractive to work for. “I had heard nothing but good of this company, sailing between England and America. But I also knew the work there to be very arduous and the hours to be very long. The type of passenger who patronized it expected all the service the company could give, and got it.”

Violet found a warmth and vitality among both crew and passengers of every age. She took mostly to American passengers finding that they acknowledged the crew as individuals, even addressing them by name.

“You felt at once that you were not a cog in a wheel, as you would so often on the South American run. Americans seemed to recognize that you were there to make their trip more comfortable and pleasant and often observed that the work could not always be easy to accomplish.”

Violet noted that nothing was done by the companies to make the work easy. Men worked 16 hours a day, everyday of the week. They scrubbed and cleaned from morning till night,   moved mountains of baggage, carved and served food, cleaned a host of apparently useless metalwork till their very souls seemed permeated with metal polish, and kept long watches into the night.

Violet’s long career at sea was, perhaps, more harrowing than most. She was aboard Titanic and was eager to join the crew of the new ship. She had great respect for Thomas Andrews, the ship’s builder, who asked the crew of Olympic aboutchanges that would benefit the crew members.

“Eagerly we joined the new ship hundreds of curious eyes, each looking for what interested them most. Yes, there was my bunk placed the way I had suggested for privacy.”

The crew speculated about the famous names they saw on the passenger list, yet cautious about meeting them. “The romance one cannot help weaving around certain personalities, due mostly to the press, is often shattered on contact,” she said.

What Violet termed the delightful days on Titanic came to an end on April 14, 1912, when the ship struck an iceberg. Violet assumed her post that evening, readjusting the life belts and reassuring passengers that the lifeboats were only a precautionary measure. Once the passengers were upstairs, Violet returned to her room and began tidying up until a head steward ushered her to the boats.

Once on the boat deck, Violet watched as the lifeboats were lowered. Finally a crewman ordered Violet into a boat. She was in lifeboat 16, filled mostly with immigrant passengers.

When morning dawned, Violet and the other passengers were taken aboard Carpathia. “We looked without success for so many whom we had ties of friendship. For our dear Tommy Andrews, for the good doctor, for the boys that made life aboard easier for us, for good friends in all departments. But they were all among the missing when the roll was called.”

By June 1912 she was back at sea. Violet, who was serving as a nurse, was injured with Britannic struck a mine and sank during World War I. But after the war, in June 1920, she was back at sea aboard the Olympic. She retired at the age of 63 after a 42 year career at sea- surviving the sinking of not one, but two White Star Line ships.

 

Information taken from Titanic Survivor: The Newly Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop Who Survived both the Titanic and Britannic Disasters, by Violet Jessop. Sheridan House Inc., New York 1997)

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