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Evocative Titanic Photographs

April 13, 2012

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:

In addition to the deck plan Frank Browne was given this postcard as a souvenir.

This must be one of the best known pictures taken on the “Titanic”. The six year old Robert Douglas Spedden whipping his spinning top, watched by his father Frederic, has attracted the attention of other passengers.

Inside the Gymnasium Mr.TW McCawley the physical educator poses at a rowing machine and Mr.William Parr, electrician who was travelling first class, is seated on some form of excercising machine, hold still for the duration of a time exposure . Both men were lost.

This interior view of the Titanic's First Class reading and writing room conveys some idea of the opulence of the liner's grand interiors.

Obviously Frank Browne could not photograph the arrival of the “Titanic” at Queenstown so subsequently he acquired photographs of the event from photographer friends. In his album he describes this picture as “Dropping Anchor at Queenstown. 12-15 pm. Apr. 11th.”. In fact the ship is still moving and preparing to drop anchor. The picture is attributed to Mr. McLean and was taken from the tender “America”.

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