This week marks 106 years since the tragic sinking of RMS Titanic. Famously known as the ‘unsinkable ship’, she collided with an iceberg on April 14th, 1912 and sank to the depths of the North Atlantic in the early hours of April 15th. Out of 2,240 passengers on board the ship, more than 1,500 died, making it one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.
The event has since inspired many stories and films, the 1997 film Titanic possibly being the most famous one. But there were also some incredible stories that came from the passengers of the ship.
One such story came from Violet Jessop, a 24-year-old stewardess onboard the Titanic. Violet helped women and children to board the lifeboats before being given a baby to look after and ordered into lifeboat 16 and picked up by Carpathia the next morning.
4 years later, Violet was serving on board the HMHS Britannic when it struck a mine and started to sink. While 1,000 people were saved, 30 died. Violet continued to serve aboard ships until her retirement in 1950 at the age of 63. In 1971 she died of heart failure and her memoirs came to light in 1996. It was amazing that despite the experiences that Violet Jessop had had, she still continued to serve aboard ships for more than 30 years!
Margaret Brown was another survivor of the Titanic sinking. She had already made a significant impact on society by the time she boarded the ship. She was one of the first women in the United States to run for political office and ran for Senate eight years before women had even been given the right to vote.
She was a first-class passenger but helped people into the lifeboats before she was forced to board lifeboat 6. Margaret and the other women in the lifeboat worked together to row the boat, and keep spirits up. There were also reports that she argued with the quartermaster about turning back for survivors, and threatened to throw him overboard if he didn’t.
After being rescued by Carpathia, Margaret helped to establish the Survivor’s Committee, had been elected chair of that committee, and had raised almost $10,000 for survivors. She was given the nickname “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” due to her efforts in commandeering the lifeboat she was placed in, and was touted as one of the disaster’s great heroines alongside Noël Leslie, who took charge of and steered one of the lifeboats for more than an hour.
Jack Thayer was a 17-year-old boy returning from a Paris trip with his family on the Titanic. Amidst the chaos, Jack became separated from his parents. He met up with a young man named Milton Long, who he had met during the voyage. They stayed together as the boat was sinking deeper into the ocean. However, once they saw people starting to jump into the water, they too decided to jump. Jack jumped just after Milton did, but never saw him again. He managed to climb onto Collapsible Lifeboat B, which had ended up lying upside down in the water.
Jack witnessed the Titanic’s final moments as the stern rose into the air and then sank into the water. Once on board the Carpathia, Jack was reunited with his mother but discovered that his father had been lost.
Jack’s story is one of the most chilling from that night, especially when reading his account of hearing the cries from the passengers in the sea, described by him as “one long continuous wailing chant”. It is unlikely that the horror of this experience ever left Jack, and in 1945 after the death of his son in the Second World War, Jack committed suicide, aged 50.
These were just a few of the dreadful, yet remarkable survivor stories from the passengers on board the Titanic. The National Archives website holds many of these stories for public perusal if you are interested in reading more this weekend as we remember 106 years since the tragic sinking.