Back at home, when he realized the ship he sailed on days before had sunk, he developed his pictures and some of them gained fame around the world, being some of the very few images taken on board the Titanic during her maiden voyage.
Francis Browne was born on January 3rd, 1880 in Cork, Ireland, the youngest of the eight children of James Browne and Brigid Browne (née Hegarty). His mother, the daughter of Lord Mayor of Cork James Hegarty, died of puerperal fever eight days after Francis's birth. After the death of his father in a swimming accident at Crosshaven on 2 September 1889, Browne was raised and supported by his uncle, Robert Browne, Bishop of Cloyne, who bought him his first camera shortly before the younger man embarked on a tour of Europe in 1897.
He spent his formative years at Bower Convent, Athlone (1888–1891), Belvedere College (1891–1892), Christian Brothers College, Cork (1892–1893), St. Vincent's Castleknock College (1893–1897) where he graduated in 1897. He then went on the aforementioned tour of Europe, taking the first of his 42,000 photographs en voyage.
Upon his return to Ireland, Browne joined the Jesuits and spent two years in the novitiate at St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly. He then attended Royal University in Dublin where he was a classmate of James Joyce, who featured him as Mr Browne the Jesuit in Finnegans Wake. He then studied theology at the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy in Dublin from 1911 to 1916.
Aboard the TitanicEdit
In April 1912 he received a present from his uncle: a ticket for the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic from Southampton, England to Queenstown, Ireland, via Cherbourg, France. Browne travelled to Southampton via Liverpool and London, boarding the Titanic on the afternoon of 10 April 1912. He was booked in cabin A-37 on the Promenade Deck. Browne 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 Room, his own cabin, and of passengers enjoying walks on the Promenade and Boat Decks. He also captured the last known images of many crew and passengers, including Captain Edward J. Smith, gymnasium manager Thomas McCawley, engineer William Parr, Major Archibald Butt, 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". By a quirk of fate, the denial probably saved his life as few men in first class survived the sinking.
Browne left the Titanic when she docked in Queenstown, Ireland 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.
His most famous album has been described as the Titanic Album of Father Browne. Although many books about the photographs have been published in many languages which describe Browne as a priest, Browne had not yet been ordained at the time he photographed the Titanic; technically, he was still a Jesuit "Scholastic".
After his ordination as a Roman Catholic priest on 31 July 1915, he completed his theological studies. In 1916, the 36-year-old Browne was sent to Europe to join the Irish Guards as a chaplain. He served with the Guards until the spring of 1920, including service at the Battle of the Somme and at Locre, Wytschaete, Messines Ridge, Paschendaele, Ypres, Amiens and Arras in Flanders. He was wounded five times during the war, once severely in a gas attack, and was awarded the Military Cross and Bar for his valour in combat. Browne took many photographs during his time in Europe; one, which he called Watch on the Rhine, is considered a classic image of World War I. He assembled a collection of his war photographs in an album named after his most famous photograph and distributed copies to his colleagues in the Guards.
After the war Father Browne returned to Ireland. In 1922 he was appointed superior of Gardiner Street Church in Dublin. Ill health dogged him, however, and in 1924 it was thought that he would recover more quickly in warmer climes. He was sent on an extended visit to Australia. He took his camera along, photographing life aboard ship and in Cape Town, South Africa, where he broke his voyage. Browne's photographs from Australia covered a cross-section of life in the continent; he took pictures of farms, ranches, industries, new immigrants, and members of Irish religious orders who lived in Australia. On his way back to Ireland he visited Ceylon, Aden, Suez, Saloniki, Naples, Toulon, Gibraltar, Algeciras, and Lisbon, taking photographs of local life and events at every stop. It is estimated that Browne took over 42,000 photographs during his life. Father Browne resumed office as the Superior of St. Xavier's Church in Dublin upon his return. In 1929 he was appointed to the Retreats and Mission staff of the Irish Jesuits. His work entailed preaching at missions and religious retreats all over Ireland; as most of this work was necessarily performed on evenings and Sundays, he had considerable time to indulge in his hobby during the daytime. He took photographs of nearly every parish and town in Ireland, and also photographed much of London and East Anglia during his Church-related travels in England.
Francis Browne died in Dublin on July 7th, 1960 and was buried in the Jesuit plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. His negatives lay forgotten for 25 years after his death; they were found bya chance in 1986 when Father Edward E. O'Donnell, SJ, discovered them in a large metal trunk, once belonging to Browne, in the Irish Jesuit archives. O'Donnell brought the negatives to the attention of several publishers: 23 volumes of the photographs have now been published.The features editor of The Sunday Times of London called this "the photographic equivalent to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls". Many of these books have become best-sellers, the latest being the Centenary Edition of Father Browne's Titanic Album, a product of Messenger Publications, Dublin, Ireland.
The Irish province of the Society of Jesus, the owner of the negatives pursuant to Father Browne's will, engaged photographic restoration specialists David and Edwin Davison to preserve and catalogue the fragile and unstable negatives. The Davisons made copies of every negative and are in the process of transferring every usable image to a digital format for future generations. Father Browne has now become even better known with his appearance (April, 2012) on the commonest Irish postage stamp (55 cents) to mark the centenary of the ill-starred liner, Titanic. This may be viewed on the Irish postal service's website, An Post. The twenty-fourth book of his photographs, Father Browne's Kerry, was produced in Dublin by Messenger Publications in October 2012.