Francis Browne

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Reverend Father
Francis Browne
Church Roman Catholic
Province Society of Jesus
Ordination 31 July 1915
by Robert Browne (bishop)
Personal details
Birth name Francis Mary Hegarty Browne
Born (1880-01-03)3 January 1880
Cork, Ireland
Died 7 July 1960(1960-07-07) (aged 80)
Dublin, Ireland
Buried Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Denomination Roman Catholic
Parents Brigid Hegarty and James Browne
Occupation Priest; Photographer of the RMS Titanic

Rev. Francis Mary Hegarty Browne, SJ, MC with Bar, Croix de Guerre[1] (3 January 1880 – 7 July 1960) was a distinguished Irish Jesuit and a prolific photographer. His best known photographs are those of the RMS Titanic and its passengers and crew taken shortly before its sinking in 1912.

Early life

Francis Browne was born in 1880 in Cork, Ireland, the youngest of the eight children of James and Brigid (née Hegarty) Browne. His mother was the niece of William Hegarty, Lord Mayor of Cork, and a cousin of Sir Daniel Hegarty, the first Lord Mayor of Cork. She died of puerperal fever eight days after Francis's birth. After the death of his father in a swimming accident at Crosshaven on 2 September 1889, Browne was raised and supported by his uncle, Robert Browne, Bishop of Cloyne, who bought him his first camera shortly before the younger man embarked on a tour of Europe in 1897.[citation needed]


He spent his formative years at Bower Convent, Athlone (1888–91), Belvedere College (1891–92), Christian Brothers College, Cork (1892–1893), St. Vincent's Castleknock College (1893–97), graduating in 1897. He went on the aforementioned tour of Europe, where he began taking photographs.[2]

Upon his return to Ireland, he joined the Jesuits and spent two years in the novitiate at St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly. He attended the Royal University, Dublin, where he was a classmate of James Joyce, who featured him as Mr Browne the Jesuit in Finnegans Wake. He studied theology at the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy in Dublin from 1911-16.[2]

Aboard the Titanic

In April 1912 he received a present from his uncle: a ticket for the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic from Southampton, England to Queenstown, Ireland, via Cherbourg, France. He travelled to Southampton via Liverpool and London, boarding the Titanic on the afternoon of 10 April 1912. He was booked in cabin no. A37 on the Promenade Deck. Browne took dozens of photographs of life aboard Titanic on that day and the next morning; he shot pictures of the gymnasium, the Marconi room, the first-class dining saloon, his own cabin, and of passengers enjoying walks on the Promenade and Boat decks. He captured the last known images of many crew and passengers, including Captain Edward J. Smith, gymnasium manager T.W. McCawley, engineer William Parr, Major Archibald Butt, and numerous third-class passengers whose names are unknown.[3]

During his voyage on the Titanic, Browne was befriended by an American millionaire couple who were seated at his table in the liner's first-class dining saloon. They offered to pay his way to New York and back in return for Browne spending the voyage to New York in their company. Browne telegraphed his superior requesting permission, but the reply was an unambiguous "GET OFF THAT SHIP – PROVINCIAL"[citation needed].[1]

Browne left the Titanic when she docked in Queenstown, Ireland and returned to Dublin to continue his theological studies. When the news of the ship's sinking reached him, he realised that his photos would be of great interest, and he negotiated their sale to various newspapers and news cartels. They appeared in publications around the world. Browne retained the negatives. His most famous album has been described as the Titanic Album of Father Browne.[1]

Later life

Francis Browne's War Decorations, on display at Cobh Heritage Centre

After his ordination on 31 July 1915, he completed his theological studies. In 1916, the 36-year-old Browne was sent to Europe to join the Irish Guards as a chaplain. He served with the Guards until the spring of 1920, including service at the Battle of the Somme and at Locre, Wytschaete, Messines Ridge, Paschendaele, Ypres, Amiens and Arras in Flanders.[1]

Browne was wounded five times during the war, once severely in a gas attack, and was awarded the Military Cross and Bar for his valour in combat. Browne took many photographs during his time in Europe; one, which he called "Watch on the Rhine", is considered a classic image of World War I. He assembled a collection of his war photographs in an album named after his most famous photograph and distributed copies to his colleagues in the Guards.[1]

After the war, he returned to Dublin, where, in 1922, he was appointed superior of Gardiner Street Church in Dublin. Ill health dogged him, however, and in 1924 it was thought that he would recover more quickly in warmer climes. He was sent on an extended visit to Australia.[4] He took his camera along, photographing life aboard ship and in Cape Town, South Africa, where he broke his voyage. His photographs from Australia covered a cross-section of life in the continent; he took pictures of farms, cattle stations, industries, new immigrants, and members of Irish religious orders who lived in that country.[4]

On his way back to Ireland, he visited Ceylon, Aden, Suez, Saloniki, Naples, Toulon, Gibraltar, Algeciras, and Lisbon, taking photographs of local life and events at every stop. It is estimated that Browne took more than 42,000 photographs during his life.[5]

Father Browne resumed office as the Superior of St. Xavier's Church in Dublin upon his return. In 1929 he was appointed to the Retreats and Mission staff of the Irish Jesuits. His work entailed preaching at missions and religious retreats all over Ireland; as most of this work was necessarily performed on evenings and Sundays, he had considerable time to indulge in his hobby during the daytime. He took photographs of nearly every parish and town in Ireland, and also photographed much of London and East Anglia during his ecclesiastical travels to England.[citation needed]

Francis Browne died in Dublin in 1960 and was buried in the Jesuit plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. His negatives lay forgotten for 25 years after his death; they were found by chance in 1986 when Father Edward E. O'Donnell, SJ, discovered them in a large metal trunk, once belonging to Browne, in the Irish Jesuit archives. O'Donnell brought the negatives to the attention of several publishers: 23 volumes of the photographs have now been published. The features editor of The Sunday Times of London called this "the photographic equivalent to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls". Many of these books have become best-sellers, the latest being the Centenary Edition of Father Browne's Titanic Album, a product of Messenger Publications, Dublin.[3]

The Irish province of the Jesuits (the Society of Jesus), the owner of the negatives pursuant to Father Browne's will, engaged photographic restoration specialists David and Edwin Davison to preserve and catalogue the fragile and unstable negatives. The Davisons made copies of every negative and are in the process of transferring every usable image to a digital format for future generations. Father Browne became better-known with his appearance (April 2012) on the commonest Irish postage stamp (55 cents) to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, which may be viewed on the Irish postal service's website, An Post. The twenty-fifth book of his photographs, Father Browne's Laois, was produced in Dublin by Messenger Publications in October 2013. The same publisher issued an updated biography, The Life and Lens of Father Browne in 2014. An hour-long documentary film on Father Browne's next book, detailing his experiences as an army chaplain during the Great War, appeared on RTE (Ireland's national broadcaster). Father Browne's First World War was then issued by Messenger Publications.[6]

Yale University Press published a volume of Fr Browne's best photographs (entitled Frank Browne: A Life through the Lens in the winter of 2014. An exhibition of these pictures was opened by the Tanaiste (Assistant Prime Minister) of Ireland, Joan Burton, at the Farmleigh Gallery in Dublin, running to Christmas 2014. [7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 World War 1 through a lens by EE O'Donnell SJ, The Irish Catholic, 7 August 2014.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Biodata,; accessed 13 August 2014.
  3. 3.0 3.1 O'Donnell, E.E. (1997). Father Browne's Titanic Album: A Passenger's Photographs and Personal Memoir. Dublin: Wolfhound Press. ISBN 0-86327-598-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Centenary Edition of this book was published by Messenger (Dublin, 2011).
  4. 4.0 4.1 O'Donnell, E.E. (1996). Father Browne's Australia. Dublin: Wolfhound Press. ISBN 0-86327-443-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. O'Donnell, E.E. (1994). Father Browne: a life in pictures. Dublin: Wolfhound Press. ISBN 0-86327-436-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
    This biography, with corrections and an updating chapter, was published under the title The Life and Lens of Father Browne, Messenger Publications, Dublin, May 2014. ISBN 978-1-910248-00-3.
  6. E.E., O'Donnell (2015). Father Browne's First World War. Dublin: Messenger Publications. ISBN 978-1-910248-02-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Yale University Press, New Haven & London, ISBN 978-0-300-20815-3.


  • Eaton, John P.; Hass, Charles A. Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy (2nd ed.). New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-03697-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • O'Donnell, E.E. (2000). Father Browne's Ships & Shipping. Dublin: Wolfhound Press. ISBN 0-86327-758-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Father Browne's Trains and Railways,; accessed 13 August 2014.

External links