Father Browne's Finest Pictures
In 1985 Father Edward O'Donnell SJ was searching in the basement at the Irishjesuit Provincial's House when he came across a large black metal trunk, in it he found a large colletion of negative albums, photographs and most amazingly of all an album containing photographs of Titanic's voyage.
All these photographs were the work of Father Francis Browne SJ who died in 1960 and was almost forgotten by this time. Subsequent investigations revealed he had enjoyed worldwide fame in 1912 when his photographs of the Titanic’s journey to Cobh were published worldwide. He had travelled first class to Cobh having been given a ticket by his uncle Robert Browne, Bishop of Cloyne. His remarkable pictures proved to be unique.
His first introduction to photography was in 1897. Just prior to joining the Jesuits he went on a Grand Tour of Europe. For this trip Uncle Robert gave him his first camera and the pictures made on that journey showed great promise.
For some years he had little opportunity to photograph but somehow his enthusiasm and artistic ability were still evident at the time of the Titanic’s journey. In 1915 he was ordained to join the Irish Guards as chaplain. He was the most decorated chaplain of WW1. In following years up to the 1950’s he created almost 42,000 negatives in which he documented the life of the emerging Republic of Ireland and fascinating aspects of Australia, England and elsewhere. In the words of one critic he was described as “a master photographer with an unerring eye”. David Davison was invited to assess the negatives from an artistic/photographic point of view and make recommendations on their conservation. The news was bad, over half the negatives were on a dangerous nitrate base and many had deteriorated badly.
Sponsorship was obtained which enabled David and his son, Edwin, to make a complete set of duplicate negatives and preserve the collection for posterity.
For over 20 years Father Browne’s photographs have been published and exhibited around the world and he is now recognised not only as the greatest photographer in Ireland of the first half of the 20th century but an outstanding photographer of world stature.