The Man Behind the Famous RMS Titanic Photographs

The Man Behind the Famous RMS Titanic Photographs

On 15th April 1912, RMS Titanic sank into the North Atlantic Ocean, 375 kilometres south of Newfoundland, Canada. The event was one of the biggest, and undoubtedly most famous, maritime disaster of all time.

There are many historic photos that offer an insight into life on-board the ship. Many of the famous images were taken by one man: Father Francis Browne. A Jesuit Priest and an avid photographer, Father Browne is responsible for many of the photographs of the ill-fated vessel that are used across the world today.

Father Browne

Father Francis Browne, SJ

Father Browne’s RMS Titanic Journey

Father Browne received his first class RMS Titanic ticket as a gift from his uncle. He was also the man who presented the Irish priest with his first camera, igniting Browne’s love of photography.

Father Browne joined the ship at Southampton before she embarked on her maiden voyage. During his time on the White Star liner, Father Browne took many photographs aboard the vessel, which was hailed the largest ship in the world at the time of her launch.

RMS Titanic departs

The crowd waves as RMS Titanic departs from Southampton, 10th April 1912

Very aware he was standing on a piece of history, Father Browne took many snaps of the passengers and crew.. He also took various images of the ship, including the Marconi room, gymnasium, the first class dining saloon, his cabin, the boat deck and the promenade.

Titanic Marconi Room

Wireless officer Harold Bride works in the Marconi Room

While most people aboard the ship were travelling to RMS Titanic‘s destination of New York, Father Browne departed at the ship’s final port of call: Queenstown (now known as Cobh), Ireland.

However, he very nearly never made it off the ship, as a wealthy American couple, whom he’d befriended during his time on RMS Titanic, offered to pay for Father Browne to join them on their journey to America, as well as his return ticket home. Tempted by the offer, Father Brown telegraphed his superior for permission, but received the response: “GET OFF THAT SHIP – PROVINCIAL”.

First Class Dining Saloon

The First Class Dining Saloon

As planned, Father Browne departed the ship, bidding farewell to his friends on RMS Titanic. Only eight people disembarked from Queenstown. All but one were first class passengers, whilst the other was a stoker.

123 people joined RMS Titanic at Queenstown, many of whom were Irish immigrants hoping to start a new life in America. Only 44 people survived the sinking.

White Star Tender at Cobh

The passengers who disembarked at Queenstown, Ireland.

Life After RMS Titanic

The world went into mourning when news reached that RMS Titanic had sank on the 15th April 1912, after colliding with an iceberg at 11.40pm on 14th April. People from across the world were affected by the disaster, as international passengers and crew were travelling aboard the world famous ship. Over 1,500 people tragically lost their lives that fateful night.

Titanic couple

A couple take a stroll on RMS Titanic’s A Deck

Father Browne quickly realised that his photographs would be of international interest, and so negotiated sales with numerous newspapers. Browne’s photos of RMS Titanic appeared in newspapers across the globe, whilst he kept the negatives.

Military Service

In addition to capturing some of the most iconic images of RMS Titanic we know today, Father Francis Browne was also a war hero. Just over a year after the sinking the ship, He was ordained as a Roman Catholic Priest on 31st July 1915. As a result, he joined the Irish Guards in Europe as a chaplain in 1916, where he served until Spring 1920. During his time in the Irish Guards, he served in the Battle of the Somme, Locre, Ypres, Arras, Messines Ridge, Wytschaete, Amiens and Paschendaele. He was wounded five times, which included a severe gas attack.

Due to his bravery in combat, Father Browne was awarded the Military Cross and Barr, as well as the French Croix de Guerre. The Allied Force Commander, Field Marshal Haig, even described Browne as “the bravest man I ever met” following his actions during the gas attack. Father Browne’s medals are now on display at Cobh’s Queenstown Heritage Centre, as part of the Belfast memorial to RMS Titanic.

Following World War I, Father Browne returned home to Dublin with a collection of war photographs. One of his most iconic images is “Watch on the Rhine”, which is widely considered a classic image of World War I. He later assembled the photos into the album named after his most famous photograph, and distributed copies to his colleagues in the Guards.

Watch on the Rhine

Watch on the Rhine

In 1922, Father Francis Browne was appointed superior of Gardiner Street Church in Dublin. However, in 1924, he suffered from ill health, and it was suggested he would recover quickly in a warmer climate, and so he was sent on an extended visit to Australia.

Despite his ill health, he took his trusty camera with him on his journey to Australia, taking photos of life aboard the ship and his adventures in Cape Town, South Africa. Whilst in Australia, he snapped photographs of farm life, new immigrants, industries and members of Irish religious orders. Upon his return, he took images of local life and events at the ship’s stops, including Lisbon, Gibraltar, Suez, Aden, Ceylon, Naples, Salonki and more. It is thought Father Browne took approximately 42,000 photographs during his lifetime.

Back in good health, Father Browne resumed his position at the church in Dublin, and was appointed the Retreats and Mission Staff of the Irish Jesuits in 1929. He would travel across Ireland preaching at religious retreats and missions during evenings and Sundays, and would spend his days enjoying his hobby, taking snaps of every parish and town in Ireland.

In 1960, Father Francis Browne passed away in his home-town of Dublin, and was buried in the Jesuit plot in Glasnevin Cemetery. His negatives were forgotten about for 25 years after his death, but were found by Father Edward E. O’Donnell, SJ, in 1986, after he discovered them in Father Browne’s large metal trunk. 23 volumes were published, with many of the books becoming best-sellers, including the Centenary edition Father Browne’s Titanic Album.

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