Even if you are jaded, lifeless, and already sick of all the Titanic obsessing that is going on for the 100th anniversary of the sinking (though it is inexplicable to me that anyone would be), I defy you not to be entranced by the series of photographs taken by Father Francis (Frank) Browne, who was aboard from Southampton to Cobh and documented his experience, producing one of the most important photographic collections of Titanic’s first voyage.
Here’s how Browne came to be on Titanic:
Frank Browne’s mother died whilst he was young and his father when in his teens. His uncle Robert Browne who was Bishop of Cloyne acted as guardian to Frank and his siblings, four of whom were to enter religious life. By the time Frank was completing his secondary education he had decided to become a Jesuit.
Immediately before entering the Order, Uncle Robert sent him on a Grand Tour of Europe and most significantly bought him a camera to record his trip. This visionary act was to reveal a natural aesthetic ability and fostered an interest in photography that was to reach fruition when Frank became the most outstanding Irish photographer of the first half of the Twentieth Century.
The Bishop had another surprise up his sleeve, when in early 1912 he presented Frank with a first class ticket for the Maiden Voyage of the Titanic to bring him as far as Cobh. So it was that on the morning of the 12th April 1912 he arrived at Waterloo Station in London to catch the Titanic Special. He immediately started taking photographs, first recording the train journey and then life aboard the Titanic on the initial section of the voyage.
Having made friends with a wealthy American family he was offered a ticket for the remaining part of the journey and no doubt excitedly telegraphed a request for permission to go on to New York, to which he received the terse response “Get Off That Ship——Provincial!” That telegram not only saved Frank’s life but also meant that this unique record of the voyage was saved for posterity and guaranteed overnight fame for Frank Browne SJ.
Browne’s collection of photos can be seen here. And here is a sampling: