Published on Monday 9 January 2012 06:26
WHEN Derry priest Fr. Eddie
O’Donnell stumbled across over 40,000 negatives belonging to the late
Fr. Frank Browne he would not have been able to envisage the
significance of what he had just discovered.
Fr. Browne, a Jesuit priest, was
widely recognised as a skilled photographer. He boarded the Titanic in
Southampton and several days later he was ordered off the boat in Cobh,
Co. Cork by his superior.
Fr. O’Donnell was born in Dublin but was
reared for the first few years of his life in 106 Bogside (close to
where the Little Diamond is now) after the death of his mother. He spent
summers visiting aunts, uncles and cousins in Derry before joining the
Fr O’Donnell discovered the invaluable collection of
photographs and mementoes in a Dublin basement in 1985. His book ‘Father
Browne’s Titanic Album’ has been updated and re-released to mark the
100th anniversary of the boat sinking in 1912.
father was from the Bogside and his mother was born in Queen Street. The
71 year-old Jesuit priest now lives in the Gonzaga College, Dublin.
Browne has been described as a master photographer and as Ireland’s
answer to Cartier-Breson. He first started taking photographs in 1897
and did so until his death in 1960.
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.
“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
“The book was first released in 1997 but we wanted to
do something special for the centenary of the sinking of the ship so we
added a chapter. It’s a piece that Fr. Browne wrote the day after he
disembarked the ship in April 1912. He wrote many things after the
tragedy but this was the only piece that I could find that he wrote
before the tragedy.
“As a result of Fr. Browne’s article I was
able to ascertain that he had been all over the ship and had even had a
swim in the swimming pool. This is the type of new information I was
able to find out as a result of the article and I think that it gives a
fresh feeling to the book.”
Perhaps the most famous story about
Fr. Browne on the Titanic was when an American couple offered to pay his
fare to America. Unbeknownst to Fr. Browne, when his superior requested
that he return to Dublin, his life was potentially saved.
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’.
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.”
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.
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’.
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,” he
Fr. Browne used what time he had to photograph the Titanic
when it arrived in Cobh. One photograph shows a man climbing one of the
ship’s large funnels and at the time it was regarded as a bad omen.
superstitious people of Cobh said when they saw it that no good could
come out of the ship’s journey and that the man in the picture was not a
man at all - they claimed that he was the devil.
shows a tiny black dot on the fourth of the ship’s funnels and it’s
actually been confirmed that the black dot was an Irish stowaway who
boarded the ship at Southampton. Apparently he climbed down the funnel
into the room where the mail was being kept and his pals put him inside
one of the mail bags and he was loaded on to the Ireland and managed to
get home to his native Cobh.”
Fr. Browne’s photographs have been used as evidence to support man facts about the Titanic.
of the most contentious issues which split opinion amongst Titanic
experts was whether the ship divided into two after it hit the iceberg
on April 15, 1912.
Dr. Robert D Ballard, the former US Navy
officer who discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, used Fr.
Browne’s photographs to confirm that the boat had in fact split in half.
“When Dr. Ballard discovered the wreck he found that the boat was in two pieces almost half a mile apart.
survivors said that the ship split in two just before it sank whilst
others said it went down in one piece. No one knew who to believe.
Robert Ballard found the boat it was solved for all time. Ballard used
photographs taken by Fr. Browne to explain why the boat split in two. It
was because of the grand staircase that the boat split - it was nine
stories high and was the weakest part of the ship. If the Titanic was
going to split anywhere it was going to be where the grand staircase
“The Titanic actually split down the middle of where Fr.
Browne’s room was because his bedroom was in one half of the wreckage
and his living room was in the other half almost half a mile away.”
Browne’s documentation of the Titanic was so concise that Oscar winning
director James Cameron used his photographs as a reference when
designing the ship’s bridge for his 1997 movie ‘Titanic’.
friend of mine is the secretary of the Titanic Historical Society and
was advisor to James Cameron’s movie about the Titanic. He had all of
Fr. Browne’s photographs and told Mr. Cameron that he had forgotten to
consult them when designing the set. Mr. Cameron then used Fr. Browne’s
photographs to redesign the bridge of the boat.”
He added: “I hope
people still enjoy the book. It’s a wonderful documentation of life on
the ship before it sank. It’s poignant that we have released it again to
mark the 100th anniversary.”
‘Father Browne’s Titanic Album - Centenary Edition’ is available to buy from www.messenger.ie.