A Lucky Escape from the Titanic -- The Titanic Photographs by Father Browne

Uploaded by titanicstories on 29.03.2011

With a feeling akin to suppressed excitement, I watched the scene.
It was my first experience of travel on an ocean liner,
and I couldn't have struck a bigger boat.
One April morning in Dublin in 1912,
Jesuit novitiate Frank Browne received a surprise gift in the post,
a two-day cruise on the world's largest liner.
Frank's parents died when he was young,
and his wealthy Uncle Robert, the Bishop of Cloyne, that brought him up.
Uncle Robert had a great interest in photography.
He gave Frank presents of different cameras,
better ones each time.
The photographs that Frank took on his voyage from Southampton to Cobh,
then called Queenstown,
provide a unique visual record of Titanic's maiden voyage.
It was not until having ascended three flights of stairs
that we could form any adequate idea of the size of this,
the largest ship in the world.
Left and right stretched a wall of steel
that towered high above the roof of the station that we'd just left.
We were about 40 feet above the quay level
and yet scarce halfway up the side of the ship.
Below us, the people looked tiny.
With a letter of introduction and a little Irish charm,
Frank made friends with the head purser, Hugh McElroy,
seen here next to Captain Smith.
Somebody introduced him to Mr McElroy,
and he obviously gave him the run of the ship,
because Frank, during his 24 hours on board,
was able to visit the stem and stern and upstairs and downstairs.
Frank Browne became a distinguished photographer,
but his thoughtful selection of subjects is evident
even this early in his career.
From children playing on deck, to the first-class gym,
he captured a revealing record of daily life on board.
His first-class ticket was for 37A,
and when he was handed the plan of the liner to find 37A,
he opened up this big large plan and could find no 37A,
or 37B, for that matter.
So even though the heading on the plan said that it was a plan of Titanic,
Frank crossed that out and said, "This is a plan of the Olympic,
that differed in several respects. For example, it doesn't show my cabin."
So he had to draw it in
and he put, "My suite was here, bedroom, bathroom and sitting room."
When he went down to his meals in the first-class dining room,
he found himself sitting beside an American couple,
very well-to-do and obviously loaded.
So much so that they said,
"Listen, we'll pay your fare the rest of the way to New York
if you stay on with us."
They were obviously very taken by him.
Frank Browne accompanied his dining companions to the Marconi Room,
where they sent a telegram to his Jesuit superior in Dublin, known as Provincial,
requesting permission to stay on board.
The picture seen here is the only one ever taken
of the Marconi Room on Titanic.
When they arrived in Cobh, Ireland,
Titanic's final stop and embarkation point,
the written reply Frank Browne received was abrupt.
He loved showing people the five-word telegram.
"Get off that ship. Provincial."
Frank's photographs of the mail and tenders at Cobh
were the last in his Titanic collection.
As I passed down the gangway, I met Mr McElroy.
"Goodbye," I said. "I'll give you copies of my photos when you come again."
"Pleasant voyage."
Frank's photographs are the only full record
of Titanic's first and final journey.
After the sinking they were to appear in many newspapers.
Father Frank Browne pursued his passion for photography until his death in 1960.
In 1985, I was living in a Jesuit house in Donnybrook, on Eglinton Road,
where, in the basement, they kept the Jesuit archives.
And I often wondered what was in a big trunk.
When I opened that, it was one of the most amazing moments of my life.
It was full of packs and packs and packs of Father Browne's photographs.
The London Sunday Times dubbed the find
"The photographic equivalent to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls."
And since that, we've published his collection in 22 instalments.
The French magazines said that he was the Irish equivalent of Cartier Bresson,
the world's best photographer ever.
Yet this would never have happened if he hadn't got off that ship.
He said it was the only time that holy obedience ever saved a man's life.