Posts Tagged ‘Titanic’

The Unseen Titanic: Photos from Jesuit Reveal Life Aboard Doomed Ship

This Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the world’s most famous and ill-fated ocean liner, Titanic.  Among the lesser known stories surrounding the steamship’s last days is the fascinating tale of Irish Jesuit Father Francis Browne, whose photographs are some of the only surviving images of life onboard the luxury liner during its first, and final, voyage.

Fr. Browne sailed the first leg of the Titanic’s maiden voyage, between Southampton, England and Cobh, Ireland — taking a series of black-and-white photos of life onboard the opulent ship. He planned to stay on the ship to New York but was ordered by his Jesuit superior to return home instead.

That order saved his life.  After striking an iceberg on April 15, 1912, the Titanic took 1,500 people to a watery grave miles below the surface of the Atlantic.

Fr. Browne survived, as did his photographs, which were rediscovered in 1985 by a fellow priest.

Fr. Browne’s absorbing photographic record of the Titanic is documented in the book “Father Browne’s Titanic Album: Centenary Edition,” which has been rereleased by Ireland’s Messenger Publications to coincide with the anniversary.

The new edition of the book is edited by Jesuit Father Edward O’Donnell, and the foreword is written by Robert Ballard, who first located the ship’s wreckage in September 1985, the same month as a chance finding of 42,000 of Fr. Browne’s photographs in the basement of the Jesuits’ headquarters in Dublin.

Because of the remarkable documentation they provide of life on the ocean liner, Fr. Browne’s photographs were used as historic references during the set design process for the film “Titanic.”  Fr. Browne’s images have also been studied by maritime historians and engineers eagerly seeking answers to a tragedy that still grips the public’s imagination.

While onboard, the self-taught photographer managed to obtain pictures of the Titanic’s first-class accommodation and dining rooms as well as gymnasium and library.  He also captured passengers enjoying a stroll on the promenade, as well as many passengers in third class, recording some of those who would later perish in the freezing waters of the Atlantic. He took the last image of the Titanic’s captain, Edward Smith.

Fr. Browne’s story is as amazing as his unique photos. In 1912, the Jesuit novice was still three years from ordination.  But because of a gift from his uncle, he was able to experience the Titanic’s luxurious accommodation during the initial stages of its maiden voyage.

The young Jesuit photographed the Titanic leaving port for the last time as it left Queenstown, in County Cork, for New York. He could have been onboard: an American couple he befriended on the ship offered to fund the final leg of the journey to New York.

From the Titanic, Fr. Browne sent a telegram to his provincial in Dublin requesting permission to stay onboard. However, a frosty telegram awaited him in Queenstown: “Get off that ship.”

When news of the Titanic’s disastrous fate reached Fr. Browne, he folded the telegram, put it into his wallet and kept it there for the rest of his life. He later said it was the only time holy obedience had saved a life.

You can see some of Fr. Browne’s photographs via this link to

You can listen to an audio interview from the Jesuits of the Irish Province with Fr. Edward O’Donnell, who found Fr. Browne’s collection, here.

Messenger Publication’s book “Father Browne’s Titanic Album: Centenary Edition,” can be purchased at their website.

Jesuit’s Photo Album of Titanic Scheduled for Release at Centenary of Sinking

When Jesuit Father Eddie O’Donnell stumbled across over 40,000 negatives belonging to late Jesuit Father Frank Browne he would not have been able to envisage the significance of what he had just discovered.

Fr. Browne, widely recognized as a skilled photographer, was often described as Ireland’s answer to Cartier-Breson. He first started taking photographs in 1897 and did so until his death in 1960.

So what was included in these negatives? The invaluable collection of photographs and mementos, which had been sitting in a Dublin basement, featured one-of-a-kind images of the Titanic, before it departed on it’s first and final voyage. Upon realizing the discovery, a collection of the images was published in 1997 known as ‘Father Browne’s Titanic Album.’ As the 100th anniversary of the boat’s sinking approaches in April, many of the photographs in the book have been digitally re-mastered and new photographs have been added for the centenary edition of the book.

As the story goes, Fr. Browne boarded the Titanic in Southampton and several days later he was ordered off the boat in Cobh, County Cork in Ireland by his Jesuit Provincial. An American couple offered to pay his fare to America, but unbeknownst to Fr. Browne, when his superior requested that he return to Dublin, his life was potentially saved.

“When Father Browne’s superior ordered him off the ship it essentially saved his life because very few men travelling in first class survived the tragedy when the boat sank,” said Fr. O’Donnell. “While he was having a meal in the first class dining room he got chatting to a wealthy American couple. They liked Fr. Browne and asked him to stay on the Titanic with them until the boat reached New York. The American couple even offered to pay the rest of his fare to New York but Fr. Browne told them that his superior in Dublin would never allow it so he had to get off the ship when it stopped in Cobh.”

“The American man said to Fr. Browne, ‘come on down to the Marconi room and we’ll send him [the Jesuit superior] a Marconigram (a message sent via radio) and we’ll tell him that we’ll pay your way to New York’. When Fr. Browne went down to the Marconi room he took a picture. It was the only picture to be taken of the room – and any films you’ve ever seen that have had the Marconi room in it based it on Fr. Browne’s photograph.”

The telegram was sent by the wealthy Americans to the Irish superior of the Jesuits but after the Titanic stopped in Queenstown in Cobh, Fr. Browne was instructed to return to Dublin. The water near Queenstown in Cobh wasn’t deep enough for the Titanic to dock so the only way it could be reached was by another boat called the Ireland.

“The Ireland set off towards the Titanic with bags of mail and the 123 Irish passengers who boarded the ship. Captain Tobin was in charge of the Ireland and he had a small envelope addressed to Fr. Browne. Inside was a note with five words on it – it read: ‘Get Off That Ship – Provincial’.”

“Fr. Browne kept the note in his wallet for the rest of his life and said that it was the only time that holy obedience saved a man’s life,”  said O’Donnell

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