Father Browne and the Titanic

Father Frank Browne

Father Frank Browne was a Catholic priest of the Jesuit order, who was born in Cork and died in Dublin. He was also a prolific photographer, a classmate of James Joyce, and a passenger on the Titanic. Thankfully, he disembarked the Titanic in Belfast, immediately prior to its sinking.

James Joyce and Fr. Frank Browne met at Royal University, Dublin, after Fr. Browne had already been with the Jesuits for two years. In 1909, Fr. Browne travelled to Rome with his uncle, and met Pope Pius X—though this photo was not the one that would make him famous. In 1912, he boarded the Titanic, bringing his camera with him and photographing many passengers and crew alike. During the journey, he befriended a millionaire American couple, who offered to pay his way to New York if he would accompany them on the trip. However, upon sending word to his religious superiors, he received a negatory response and so disembarked the ship in Belfast. Those many photographs that he took onboard the ship soon became the last known photos taken of many of the passengers aboard the Titanic—including the Captain. Many news outlets and other historical groups purchased copies of his photos, and many of them are still in circulation today. In fact, after the ship’s sinking, the Eastman Kodak company ended up giving him free film for life.

Captain Edward John Smith (R) and Hugh Walter McElroy (L)
Photo Credit: Fr. Browne

My interest in Fr. Frank Browne’s experiences initially stemmed from his connection to Joyce—since Fr. Browne is actually known to be the character of Mr. Browne the Jesuit in Finnegans Wake. I know that this is jumping ahead in the reading (and I admit that I have not read Finnegans Wake yet), but I found it very interesting that this Mr. Browne was not entirely a work of fiction. I still found this story relevant, however, because I think that the sinking of the Titanic can perhaps be tied in with the stories within Dubliners—which was published only two years after the ship sank, and because Joyce goes on to use a Titanic “survivor” in his later work (indicating to me that this historic tragedy influenced his writing). The sinking of the Titanic was known to have disturbed many people, from all levels of society. The ship itself was a massive symbol of hope and innovation, and the fact that it tragically sunk so quickly and so mysteriously made it an especially painful moment in history. This reevaluation of life, death, and choices is a common theme in Dubliners, for many of the stories, and I doubt that these things came from nowhere. While I don’t think that the sinking of the Titanic was necessarily a direct inspiration for Joyce, I do know that it deeply impacted many within Irish society at that time period.

Interior of Titanic
Photo Credit: Fr. Browne

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