The sinking of the RMS Titanic, on 15 April 1912, remains etched in history as one of the most tragic maritime disasters of all time. The luxury liner, considered ‘unsinkable’ at the time, collided with an iceberg on its maiden voyage, resulting in the loss of over 1,500 lives.
The rescue mission was led by the RMS Carpathia, a passenger ship, which swiftly responded to distress signals from the sinking Titanic, arriving approximately 2 hours after it had sunk. As the Carpathia approached, it encountered a harrowing sight — the icy waters strewn with debris and lifeboats.
While the loss of life was staggering, there were also stories of miraculous survival. Around 710 people managed to escape the sinking ship and were rescued by other vessels.
Upon reaching New York City, the survivors were met with a city in mourning and a media frenzy. Families anxiously awaited news of their loved ones, hoping for joyous reunions but often faced with heart-wrenching losses.
Here are the stories of 5 of those Titanic survivors, and the extraordinary circumstances that led to their miraculous escapes.
Margaret ‘Molly’ Brown
Margaret Brown, known as the ‘Unsinkable Molly Brown,‘ was an American socialite and philanthropist. Already a trailblazer, she had made history as one of the first women to run for political office in the United States, years before women gained the right to vote. During her travels in Europe, she received news of her ill grandson and promptly booked passage on the earliest available ship — Titanic — destined for New York, which she boarded at Cherbourg, France.
When disaster struck, women and children were urged to board the lifeboats, but Brown chose to remain on the vessel, and assisted others in their escape. It was only when a crew member forcefully placed her in lifeboat number 6 that she reluctantly left the sinking ship.
Once on the lifeboat, Brown engaged in a heated confrontation with Quartermaster Robert Hichens. She implored him to turn back and rescue any survivors in the water, and threatened to throw him overboard when he refused. While it is uncertain if she succeeded in turning the boat around, she convinced Hichens to allow women in the boat to row, which ensured they stayed warm amidst the frigid waters.
Following the tragedy, Brown dedicated herself to social activism, becoming a prominent figure in advocating for women’s suffrage and workers’ rights. Her character was immortalised in James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic, further solidifying her place in history.
Brown died at the age of 65, of a brain tumour, in New York on 26 October 1932.
Charles Joughin was an experienced chief baker, who had served on Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic. On the ill-fated voyage, he supervised a team of 13 and was one of the highest-paid crew members, earning a monthly wage equivalent to £12.
Joughin later testified that he was off duty when the accident occurred, but sent his bakers with 50 loaves of bread for the lifeboats, and returned to his room for a drink. He returned again to the boat deck to reach his assigned lifeboat (10) on the port side, and assisted in placing women and children in the boat, but didn’t board himself. Joughin returned again to his room for another stiff drink before going back to the boat deck, only to find all the lifeboats had already departed. He eventually reached the starboard side of the poop deck, where he clung to the ship’s outer rails. As the ship went down into the icy water, he managed to stay afloat and eventually was picked up by lifeboat B at daybreak.
It has been speculated that his high alcohol consumption played a role in his survival, as alcohol can increase body heat and potentially provide some insulation against hypothermia.
Despite the traumatic experience, he continued to work at sea for several more years before retiring.
Charles Joughin passed away on 9 December 1956, at the age of 78.
Violet Jessop, an Irish-Argentine ocean liner stewardess, had an extraordinary connection to maritime disasters. She had previously served on the Olympic, the eldest of the 3 sister ships, which had collided with HMS Hawke in 1911. She reluctantly joined the Titanic, in 1912 aged 24, after being persuaded by her friends that it would be a unique experience.
Immediately after the Titanic’s collision, Jessop assisted in the evacuation by aiding women and children into lifeboats, and was entrusted with caring for a baby. She boarded lifeboat 16 which was rescued by the Carpathia the following morning.
Some years later, whilst working as a nurse for the British Red Cross, she was assigned to the hospital ship HMHS Britannic, which was the sister ship of both the doomed Titanic and Olympic. On the 21 November 1916 the Britannic struck a mine and began to sink, with Jessop on board, who survived yet another maritime disaster. Some 1,000 individuals were saved but the incident still claimed the lives of 30 people.
Jessop died of heart failure in 1971, at the age of 83.
Colonel Archibald Gracie IV
Eva Hart, aged just 7 at the time, was a British girl traveling on the Titanic with her parents as second-class passengers. Her father, Benjamin, placed her, along with her mother, Esther, into lifeboat 14, and they were rescued the following morning by the Carpathia. Eva’s father did not survive the sinking.
For the rest of her life she was traumatised by nightmares, vividly recounting the noise of the “terrible screams” in frequent interviews.
She went on to became an advocate for maritime safety and actively campaigned for stricter regulations and increased safety measures on ships. She frequently criticised the White Star Line, the shipping company that owned the Titanic, for failing to provide enough lifeboats.
She was one of the last remaining survivors, who labelled the shipwreck’s salvagers as “fortune hunters, vultures, pirates, and grave robbers”, before her death from cancer on 14 February 1996, just 2 weeks before turning 91.