Born in Cork in 1880, Francis Browne entered the Society of Jesus novitiate at the age of 17. While teaching in Belvedere College in Dublin, he received a present from his uncle, Robert Browne, Bishop of Cloyne: a ticket for the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic from Southampton, England, to Queenstown [Cobh], Ireland, via Cherbourg, France. He travelled to Southampton and boarded the Titanic on the afternoon of 10 April 1912. He took dozens of photographs of life aboard Titanic on that day and the next morning; he shot pictures of the gymnasium, the Marconi room, the first-class dining saloon, his own cabin, and of passengers enjoying walks on the Promenade and Boat decks. He captured the last known images of many crew and passengers, including captain Edward J. Smith, gymnasium manager T. W. McCawley, engineer William Parr, and numerous third-class passengers whose names are unknown.
During his voyage on the Titanic, Browne was befriended by an American millionaire couple who were seated at his table in the liner’s first-class dining saloon. They offered to pay his way to New York and back in return for Browne spending the voyage to New York in their company. Browne telegraphed his superior, requesting permission, but the reply was an unambiguous “GET OFF THAT SHIP – PROVINCIAL”
Browne left the Titanic when she docked in Queenstown and returned to Dublin to continue his theological studies. When the news of the ship’s sinking reached him, he realised that his photos would be of great interest, and he negotiated their sale to various newspapers and news cartels. They appeared in publications around the world. Browne retained the negatives. The Eastman Kodak company subsequently gave him free film for life and Browne often contributed to The Kodak Magazine. Because of the cost, many of his negatives were never printed.
Father Browne’s collection of negatives was discovered by chance in a tin trunk by Fr O’Donnell SJ in 1986. He is now considered to be one of Ireland’s finest photographers of the 20th century.
Image courtesy Davison & Associates © Irish Jesuit Archives