Life on board the Titanic – The Photos of Father Browne

The footage of the dramatic sinking of the Costa Concordia and the loss of life brings mental images flooding back of that almost mythic sinking of RMS Titanic back in 1912. The same pictures come to mind of party going passengers suddenly plunged into cold, dark, unforgiving waters.

The Titanic story shook the world then and it still has a power over us today. It was the maiden voyage of what was supposed to be the grandest (and unsinkable) ship ever built. Many of the passengers were on their way to a brand new life in what was then known as the new world. Then there was the grandeur of the palatial public rooms. The class ridden arrangements which meant many of the lower status passengers nerve got toe see the splendour. That was set aside for the privileged few. All these facts combine to create the myth and legend that the Titanic story became.

One man happened to be on board and armed with his camera collected some rare images of that maiden voyage. That man was Father Francis (Frank) Browne a Jesuit priest who produced this remarkable chronicle. The only reason we can now see these images was because Browne’s Jesuit superior ordered his disembarkation in Dublin. An American millionaire had offered to pay for the New York leg for Browne but luckily for him and for us Dublin was as far as he got. After the tragedy in April 1912, Browne’s photographs appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world, as the sole visual chronicle of the Titanic’s passage from Southampton to Ireland before its doomed voyage to New York.

The Bridgeman Art Library, the world’s leading source of fine art, cultural and historical images available for reproduction, has just now been given the important role of representing the Father Browne Photographic Collection, a valuable chronicle of life onboard the Titanic before tragedy struck 100 years ago.

Father Browne’s negatives lay forgotten for 25 years after his death in 1960. It was by chance that a fellow priest discovered Browne’s amazing collection in a large metal trunk and brought the negatives to the attention of the London Sunday Times, who dubbed them “the photographic equivalent to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

The Father Browne Photographic Collection contains his thought provoking series that begins with images at Waterloo Station with the departure of the “Titanic Special” then onto the activities of passengers and crew aboard the ship, It is some of the more day to day images of passengers enjoying themselves on board that are the most evocative. As is the image of he anchor being raised from the water for the final time and the last known shot of the Titanic as she left port for New York and to meet its fate.

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