Violet Jessop, the 20th Century Lady Jonah: Part 2 – Aboard the RMS Titanic


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Titanic - A painting by Ken Marschall
Titanic – A painting by Ken Marschall

In 1911, RMS Titanic was the second of three Olympic class ocean liners owned and operated by the White Star Line of steamships. It was the largest ocean cruiser afloat at the time it entered service.

Harland and Wolff built the ship in their shipyard on Queen’s Island, now known as the Titanic Quarter, in Belfast Harbour. Thomas Andrew, the managing director and head of the drafting department for the shipbuilding company was her naval architect in charge of the plans for the ocean liner. It took about 26 months to build it. Although RMS Titanic was virtually identical to the class lead ship RMS Olympic, a few modifications were made to differentiate the two ships.

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912. Author: F.G.O. Stuart (1843-1923)
RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912. Author: F.G.O. Stuart (1843-1923)

RMS Titanic was launched at 12:15 pm on May 31, 1911 in the presence of Lord William Pirrie  a leading Irish shipbuilder and businessman, J. Pierpoint Morgan  an American financier and banker, and J. Bruce Ismay (son of Thomas  Henry Ismay)  chairman and managing director of the White Star Line of steamships, and 100,000 onlookers. It is alleged that 22 tons of soap and tallow were spread on the slipway to lubricate the vessel’s passage into the River Lagan.

Captain Edward John Smith, RD, RNR

Captain Edward John Smith, RD, RNR
Captain Edward John Smith, RD, RNR

Edward John Smith, RD, RNR (January 27, 1850 – April 15, 1912) joined the White Star Line in March 1880 as the Fourth Officer of SS Celtic. He served aboard the company’s liners to Australia and to New York City and quickly rose in status. In 1887, he received his first White Star command, the SS Republic. From 1895 on, Smith was captain of SS Majestic for nine years.

He gained a reputation among his passengers and crew members for his quiet pomposity. Most England’s elite preferred to traverse the Atlantic only in a ship captained by him, thus he became known as the “Millionaires’ Captain“.

From 1904 on, Smith commanded the White Star Line’s newest ships on their maiden voyages. In 1904, he was given command of the then-largest ship in the world, the RMS Baltic. Her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York, that set sail on June 29, 1904, went without incident. After three years with RMS Baltic, Smith was given his second new big ship, the RMS Adriatic and once again the maiden voyage went without any untoward incident.

On board the RMS Titanic

Violet Jessop was one of the happiest stewardesses while working on the Olympic. But, after the Hawke incident, she was apprehensive in joining as a stewardess on any ship. However, her friends persuaded her to join the heavily advertised ‘unsinkable’ Titanic as they thought it would be a ‘wonderful experience’ to serve on her.

On April 10, 1912, Violet, ‘dressed in a new ankle-length brown suit’ set out in a horse-drawn Hansom cab to join the brand new ship as a stewardess at her berth in Southampton. The same day RMS Titanic left Southampton on its maiden voyage to New York.

Bruce Ismay usually accompanied his ships on their maiden voyages, and the Titanic was one of them.

There were 908 crew members, including Violet Jessop on board the RMS Titanic under the command of Captain Edward Smith. Most of the crew members were not seamen. They were divided into three principal departments: Deck, Engine, and Victualling. Of these crew members only 23 were female, mainly stewardesses.

Also among the crew were bakers, chefs, butchers, fishmongers, dishwashers, stewards, gymnasium instructors, laundrymen, waiters, bed-makers, cleaners, etc. The ship even had a printer, who produced a daily newspaper for passengers called the Atlantic Daily Bulletin with the latest news received by the ship’s wireless operators.

Southampton is a major port and the largest city on the south coast of England. Out of the 908 crew members, 699 of the crew came from Southampton, and 40% were natives of the city. Most of the crew signed on in Southampton on April 6, 1912.

Some specialist crew members were self-employed or were subcontractors. There were: five postal clerks, who worked for the Royal Mail and the United States Post Office Department; the staff of the First Class À La Carte Restaurant and the Café Parisien; the radio operators, employed by Marconi; and the eight musicians employed by an agency and travelling as second-class passengers. Violet says she became a friend of the Scottish violinist Jock Hume.

The pay of crew members varied greatly. Captain Edward Smith was paid £105 a month. Violet Jessop and the other stewardesses were paid £3 10s. The lower-paid victualling staff were allowed to supplement their wages through tips from passengers.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, millions of Europeans immigrated to the United States and Canada. White Star was among the first shipping lines to have passenger ships with inexpensive accommodation for third-class passengers, in addition to luxury first-class and second-class berths. The White Star Line’s quartet of revolutionary liners had the largest carrying capacity for third-class passengers: RMS Celtic of 1901 had a capacity for 2,352 passengers; RMS Cedric of 1903 and RMS Baltic of 1904 had a capacity for 2,000 passengers each; and RMS Adriatic of 1907 had a capacity for 1,900 passengers.

The passengers on RMS Titanic included some of the wealthiest people in the world: 325 first-class and 285 second-class passengers, as well as 706 third-class passengers – mostly emigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and from countries throughout Europe seeking a new life in North America.

The following photos are from scenes enacted by actors for the play TITANIC at the Barrow-Civic Theatre, at 1223 Liberty Street, Franklin, Pennsylvania, USA.

TITANIC - First Class Passengers. (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)
TITANIC – First Class Passengers. (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)

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TITANIC - Second Class Passengers. (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)
TITANIC – Second Class Passengers. (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)

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TITANIC - Third Class Irish Immigrants (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)
TITANIC – Third Class Irish Immigrants (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)

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The proud serivce staff of the RMS TITANIC (from left to right) Stewardess Annie Robinson, Stewardess Violet Jessop, Head Steward Henry Etches, Mrs. Latimer, and Stewardess Mary Hutchinson. (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)
The proud serivce staff of the RMS TITANIC (from left to right) Stewardess Annie Robinson, Stewardess Violet Jessop, Head Steward Henry Etches, Mrs. Latimer, and Stewardess Mary Hutchinson. (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)

On April 10, 1912, at noon RMS Titanic left Southampton on its maiden voyage to New York. She called at Cherbourg in France at 6:35 pm. After disembarking 15 first and seven second class passengers, the ship took aboard 142 first, 30 second and 102 third class passengers. It left Cherbourg at 8:10 pm for Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland.

The ship reached Queenstown at 11:30 am. After disembarking and embarking passengers, she set out at 1:30 pm on her fatal voyage towards New York with a total of 2,224 people: 908 crew members, 325 first class, 285 second class and 706 third class passengers.

RMS Titanic, painted by 16-year-old Ken Marschall (Source : greenwichworkshop.com)
RMS Titanic, painted by 16-year-old Ken Marschall (Source : greenwichworkshop.com)

In her memoirs, Violet Jessop mentions Thomas Andrews, the naval architect in charge of the plans for the ocean liner RMS Titanic. Like all other crew members, she too greatly admired him for he was the only person who heeded the requests of the crew for improvements in their quarters. She wrote:

“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.”

During the voyage, Bruce Ismay talked about a possible test of speed if time permitted.

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 Previous: Part 1 – Aboard the RMS Titanic

Next → Part 3 – Ice Warnings for the The RMS Titanic 

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