White Star Line was a prominent British shipping company, famous for their luxurious liners. Founded in 1845, the company had their first liner, the Oceanic, built in 1870.
The ship had a successful run; it was taking passengers across the Pacific until 1895 when it was decommissioned and sold for scrap. Encouraged by this success, White Star Line ordered three more vessels from Harland & Wolff, the same company that built the Oceanic.
The new trio of luxurious ships were named Olympic-class ocean liners, which were constructed in the period from 1908 to 1914, and one of those ships later became the most famous vessel of all time.
The three sister ships were all constructed in Belfast, Ireland. The first ship built was named Olympic, and it operated from 1911 until 1935. It was the only ship of the Olympic-class trio not to have an ill-fated end, although it did have two accidents. The Olympic collided twice with other ships during its long run, but none of the accidents were too severe.
The second ship was given the name Titanic, started its maiden voyage on 10 April 1912 and sank only five days later after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean. The third and the largest of all three ships was proudly named Britannic. It began operating in 1915, but its operational life lasted for only one year. In 1916, the Britannic hit a mine in the Aegean Sea, planted by a German submarine during World War One. Together, the two unfortunate ships took the lives of 1533 people. However, many survived as well, and there’s one person who survived both the sinking of the Titanic and the Britannic. Not only that, but she was also aboard the Olympic when it had one of its accidents. This woman’s name is Violet Jessop.
Violet was born on 2 October 1887 in Argentina to Irish parents. Violet defied death even as a child. At a young age, she contracted tuberculosis, but despite the pessimistic opinions of the doctors, she managed to survive.
After losing her father when she was only 16 years old, Violet moved to England with her family, where she started school. At the same time, she had to take care of her younger siblings, as her mother was working as a stewardess on cruise ships and spent a lot of time at sea. When her mother became sick, young Violet left school and in 1908, at age 21, she started working as a stewardess for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company.
Violet had had a hard time finding a job. Most of the women working on the ships were middle-aged, and Violet was young and attractive. Employers considered this to be a disadvantage, so the young lady was forced to wear old clothes and use no makeup, all to make herself less attractive looking.
Her efforts were, however, in vain and she still received three marriage proposals while working as a stewardess.
Violet enjoyed working on a cruise ship, even though the salary was minimal. In 1910, she became an employee of White Star Line and started working on the biggest civilian vessel of that time, the Olympic. On 20 September 1911, the Olympic collided with HMS Hawke, a British warship, specially designed to ram into other ships and sink them. The Olympic had its hull breached but still managed to sail into port. Violet Jessop was not harmed in the accident.
Several months after the Olympic mishap, Violet joined the crew of the RMS Titanic. The luxurious and now biggest ship in the world left Southampton on 10 April 1912 and struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean four days later. Two hours after the accident, the ship sank, and 1503 passengers lost their lives.
The young stewardess boarded lifeboat 16 and was later rescued by RMS Carpathia, together with many other passengers. While on the lifeboat, Violet was given a baby to hold by one of the Titanic’s officers. She took care of the baby until the next morning, when the baby’s mother took if from her arms. Miss Jessop was 25 years old when she survived the second ship accident.
When WWI began, the third of the Olympic-class luxurious ocean liners was employed by the British naval authorities as a hospital ship. On 13 November 1915, the Britannic was renamed as HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) and was put under the command of Captain Charles Bartlett. The ship transported wounded soldiers from the Mediterranean back to Great Britain, and Violet Jessop was working as a nurse at the mobile hospital. The ship completed five successful voyages on this route, before suffering a tragic destiny similar to that of her sister, the Titanic. On 21 November 1916, the Britannic was in the Aegean Sea when she hit a mine planted by a German submarine. 57 minutes after that, the grandiose ship was already at the bottom of the sea.
There were 1605 passengers on board, and 30 lost their lives. Having learned the lesson from the Titanic tragedy, the Harland & Wolff company installed more lifeboats on the Britannic, hence the significantly smaller number of casualties. Violet Jessop found her way into one of those lifeboats and was nearly killed when a piece of the ship’s propeller hit her in the head. She suffered a head injury but still managed to survive her third maritime disaster.
When the war was over, Violet continued her employment at White Star Line. Before retiring in 1950, she worked for two more cruise companies: the Red Star Line, and again with the Royal Mail Line. She traveled around the world twice and had a short marriage.
When she retired from her job as a stewardess, she settled down in Suffolk. A few years later, Jessop received a strange phone call from an unkown woman who asked if Violet was the savior of a baby during the Titanic tragedy. Violet confirmed, and the woman then said that she was the baby Violet saved and hung up the phone. Violet told her friend and biographer John Maxtone-Graham that she never told the story about the baby to anyone, denying his claims that it was a prank call from the local children. Violet earned the nickname “Miss Unsinkable” and died in 1971, at the age of 84, due to a heart failure.
People throughout the world have pondered Robertson’s psyche for almost a century, ever since that fateful April night in 1912 when the HMS Titanic slipped into the icy depths of the North Atlantic.
Robertson had written a book of fiction, called “Futility,” about an unsinkable British ocean liner named the Titan that hits an iceberg in the North Atlantic in April and sinks, taking hundreds to the bottom of the ocean.
Robertson’s book about the Titan was published in 1898 — 14 years before the Titanic left Southampton, England, for New York City.
Similarly, people have wondered about a fictional book Robertson had published in 1914 that told of a Japanese attack on Hawaii. But more about that later.
Robertson, born Sept. 30, 1861, in Oswego, was the son of Andrew and Amelia Robertson. He attended Oswego’s School No. 6, on the site where St. Paul Catholic Church sits today.
Oswego County Historian Justin White said the Robertson family lived on East Seventh Street — the house still exists with the current house number of 103, according to a biography written about Robertson. White said Robertson’s mother died when he was young and his father remarried, producing a half-sister for young Morgan.
Robertson’s father, Andrew, was a ship captain on the Great Lakes — the man from whom young Morgan Andrew Robertson gained a love for the sea, White said. In summers, Robertson would accompany his father on voyages through the Great Lakes, White said.
Biographer John Vess wrote that Robertson so loved the water he “ran away to sea” at age 16, which explains why most writings about his early life cannot find him listed as an Oswego High graduate.
From 1877 to 1886, he served in the Merchant Marine, first on his beloved Great Lakes and then, throughout the world. Once he gave up traveling the seas, Robertson became interested in jewelry making, but “he gave this up later because of his (failing) eyesight,” White said.
“Then a reporter gave him a book with sea stories,” White said. “He noticed the inaccuracies, and that’s when he wrote his first sea story.”
Many written accounts say he wrote that first story on a washtub.
Those who have written about Robertson’s stories say his work aboard ships and love of the sea made his sea tales the most accurate and vivid of his day. Former Oswego County historian Anthony Slosek wrote in “Oswego: Its People and Events” a comment from Booth Tarkington in McClures Magazine in October 1915 — “his stories are bully, his sea foamy, and his men have hair on their chests.”
For example: “Her name was the Anita and she was the second barge in a tow of two. Ahead of her, at the end of a ninety-fathom steel tow line, was the sister barge Champion and at an equal distance farther ahead was the steamer Proserpine. Each barge carried stump spars and mutton-leg canvas, which was why Scotty, weary of the endless work in the deep-water windjammers, had gone ‘tow-barging.’” (From “The Dollar,” a story in the book “Land Ho!”)
Robertson wrote more than 200 stories, which were published in 14 books. His first book was titled “A Tale of a Halo.”
“Futility” is 69 pages long and “his writing is interesting. He writes very well. He was meant to be a writer,” White said.
Robertson never made a fortune at writing. Here is what he said about himself in an article in the Saturday Evening Post reprinted in McClure’s Magazine in March 1916, a year after his death:
“I have written more than 200 short stories. My name has appeared as author of stories in every leading magazine in the United States and frequently in the English periodicals. I have had published 14 books, none of which retailed for less than a dollar. I frequently go into public libraries and see my 14 volumes strung in a row. I go to these libraries for books because I have not enough money to buy one. I am broke! I am the rolling stone that gathered no moss.”
Ann Allen, a faculty member at LeMoyne College and native of Oswego, has researched Robertson for years. She said “in his time, he was very famous” and many well-known writers of the day “put together enough money to give him a propersend-off” when he died.
None of Robertson’s tales gained the notoriety of “Futility.” It was a fine story when it came out in 1898, but it skyrocketed in popularity after the Titanic disaster — 100 years ago next April. Morgan Robertson’s novella “Futility” (later renamed “The Wreck of the Titan or, Futility” can be found at several Central New York libraries. Copies also are for sale at amazon.com and eBay. A tablet version is available for the Nook at Barnes & Noble.
After the Titanic disaster, some comparisons between the real Titanic and Robertson’s Titan began. And people began to wonder about Robertson.
In an article in The Titanic Commutator, the official journal of the Titanic Historical Society, the writer says the “religious were convinced Robertson had a gift of prophecy and ‘Futility’ was divinely inspired, containing the word of God.”