Born: 03 January 1880, Sunday's Well, Cork City
Entered: 07 September 1897, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 31 July 1915, Milltown Park, Dublin
Professed: 02 February 1921
Died: 07 July 1960, Milltown Park, Dublin
by 1902 at Chieri Italy (TAUR) studying
by 1917 Military Chaplain : 1st Battalion Irish Guards, BEF France
◆ Royal Irish Academy : Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press online :
Browne, Francis Patrick Mary
by James Quinn
Browne, Francis Patrick Mary (1880–1960), photographer and Jesuit priest, was born 3 January 1880 in Sunday's Well, Cork, youngest of eight children of James Browne, flour merchant and JP, and Brigid Browne (née Hegarty; 1840–80), who died of puerperal fever eight days after Francis's birth. The family was well-off and owned a large house at Buxton Hill; Brigid's father, James Hegarty, was a wealthy tanner and a JP, and served as lord mayor of Cork. Francis attended the Bower convent, Athlone (1885–92), the Christian Brothers' college, St Patrick's Place, Cork (1892), the Jesuit college at Belvedere, Dublin (1893), and the Vicentian college at Castleknock (1893–7). He excelled in the classics and modern languages, enjoyed sports, and played on the Castleknock first rugby XV. On leaving Castleknock he made a tour of Europe with his brother William (1876–1938) (also a priest and photographer), and took many photographs, which even at this stage showed considerable talent. On his return in September 1897 he joined the Jesuits, and served his noviceship at Tullabeg, King's Co. (Offaly). After his father drowned while swimming at Crosshaven (2 September 1898), his education was overseen by his uncle, Robert Browne (qv), president of Maynooth College and bishop of Cloyne (1894–1935). Francis took his first vows 8 September 1899, and studied classics at the Royal University at St Stephen's Green, Dublin, graduating with an honours BA (1902). At university he was a contemporary of James Joyce (qv), and ‘Mr Browne, the Jesuit’ makes an appearance in Finnegans wake. He studied philosophy (1902–5) at Chieri, near Turin, travelling throughout Italy during the summer holidays and studying Italian painting. Returning to Ireland in 1905, he taught at Belvedere (1905–11), where he founded a cycling club, a camera club, and the college annual, The Belvederean, which featured many of his photographs.
In April 1912 he sailed on the first leg of the Titantic's maiden voyage (10–11 April) from Southampton to Queenstown (Cobh) via Cherbourg. Friends offered to pay for him to complete the trip to New York, but the Jesuit provincial in Dublin refused him permission. He took about eighty photographs on the voyage, including the last one of the Titanic's captain, Edward Smith, and the only one ever taken in the ship's Marconi room. The Titantic's sinking catapulted his work to international attention, his photographs appearing on the front pages of newspapers around the world. His name forever became associated with the Titanic and he assiduously collected material relating to the disaster, which he used to give public lectures.
He studied theology (1911–15) at Milltown Park, Dublin, and was ordained 31 July 1915. Early in 1916 he became a military chaplain in the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, with the rank of captain. Present at the Somme and Ypres (including Passchendaele), he showed great courage under fire, tending the wounded in no man's land and guiding stretcher parties to wounded men. He himself was wounded five times and gassed once, and won the MC and bar and the Croix de Guerre. His commanding officer, the future Earl Alexander, who became a lifelong friend, described him as ‘the bravest man I ever met’ (O'Donnell, Life, 46). During the war he took many photographs, now held in the Irish Guards headquarters in London. He returned to Ireland late in 1919, completed his tertianship (July 1920), and was again assigned to Belvedere. On 31 October 1920 he cycled to the viceregal lodge to make a personal appeal for the life of Kevin Barry (qv), an Old Belvederean.
He took his final vows (2 February 1921) and was appointed supervisor of St Francis Xavier's church, Gardiner St. (1921–8). Because of the damage done to his lungs by gassing during the war, he spent the years 1924–5 in Australia, making a 3,000-mile trip through the outback, where he took many memorable photographs. By now he and his camera were inseparable and he used it widely on his return trip through Ceylon, Yemen, Egypt, and Italy. Returning to Dublin in late 1925 he resumed his position at Gardiner St. and began regularly to photograph inner-city Dublin life, taking about 5,000 photographs of Dublin over thirty years. In 1926 he took flying lessons and took many aerial photographs of Dublin. He became an important member of the Photographic Society of Ireland and the Dublin Camera Club and was vice-president and a key organiser of a highly successful international exhibition of photography (the First Irish Salon of Photography) during Dublin's ‘civic week’ in 1927; further exhibitions were held biennially until 1939. Appointed to the Jesuits' mission and retreat staff, he was based at Clongowes Wood, Co. Kildare (1928–30), and Emo Court, Co. Laois (1930–57).
Many of these were of the great cathedrals of England, which had a particular fascination for him. With war looming, in 1937–8 he was commissioned by the Church of England to photograph the churches of East Anglia to enable their accurate restoration should they suffer bomb damage. In 1939 his offer to serve as chaplain to the Irish Guards was accepted, but he was refused permission from the Irish Jesuit provincial.
Travelling throughout Britain and Ireland, he continued to photograph and assiduously to practise the technical aspects of photography and build up an impressive array of photographic equipment, including his own developing laboratory at Emo. Most experts believe that his talent matured fully in the 1930s. Given a Kodak 16mm cine-camera by his uncle Robert, he shot a film of the eucharistic congress in Dublin in 1932, and made several subsequent films for state and educational bodies. In 1933 he visited the Kodak works at Harrow, north-west of London, and afterwards received a supply of free film for life and regularly contributed articles and photographs to the Kodak Magazine.
In the 1940s and ‘50s he photographed almost every aspect of Irish life – pilgrimages, ruined monasteries, great houses, and leading religious, political, and literary figures – and his photographs featured regularly in Irish publications. Much of his work dealt with new industries and technology, especially his fascination with transport: aircraft, shipping, and trains. A booklet issued by the Department of Health on the ‘mother and child’ scheme in 1951 was illustrated with his photographs. All his earnings from photography (c.£1,000, 1937–54) were forwarded to the Jesuit provincial treasurer and used for the education of Jesuit students.
As his health faded, he resided at Milltown Park from 1957, and many of his photographs from the late 1950s recorded the themes of old age and death. He died in Dublin 7 July 1960, and was buried in the Jesuit plot in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin.
He took an estimated 42,000 photographs throughout his life, but his fame as a photographer was largely posthumous: most of his work lay unnoticed in a trunk in the Jesuit archives until 1986. His photographs were neatly captioned and dated but were mostly on deteriorating nitrate film, and a major restoration effort was required to transfer them to safe film. Photographic experts were astounded at the quality of the work, generally considering it the outstanding photographic collection of twentieth-century Ireland. Fr Browne had all the attributes of a great photographer: a natural eye for line and balance in composition (a talent developed by his study of Italian art) and an ability to anticipate the decisive moment. In photographing people his lens was never intrusive or exploitative, and his sympathy with his subject is always evident. Scenes involving children, in particular, are captured with a natural ease and dignity. He has been described as ‘one of the great photographic talents’ (O'Donnell, Life, 123) of the twentieth century, and compared favourably with the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Since 1986 his work has been regularly exhibited, published in various collections compiled by E. E. O'Donnell, SJ, and featured in television documentaries.
Rudyard Kipling, The Irish Guards in the great war (2 vols, 1923), i, 136, 141, 145–6, 170, 182; ii, 173; Ir. Times, 18 Nov. 1989; E. E. O'Donnell, SJ, ‘Photographer extraordinary: the life and work of Father Browne’, Studies, lxxix (1990), 298–306; id., Father Browne's Dublin (1993); id., Father Browne: a life in pictures (1994); id., Father Browne's Titanic album (1997)
◆ Jesuits in Ireland :
Few can claim to have seen as much in their life as Francis Browne, sailing on the Titanic, serving in World War I, travelling the world. Not only did he live it but, as an amateur photographer, he also recorded his life and experiences, allowing us today immeasurable insight into that period in our history.
Born in Cork in 1880, Francis Browne was the youngest of eight children. His mother died of puerperal fever not long after his birth and his father died in a swimming accident when he was nine, so Browne was taken care of by his uncle, Robert Browne. After finishing school in Dublin in 1897, Browne went on a grand tour of Europe, seeing France and Italy. For his travels, his uncle bought him his first camera as a present, and this began Browne’s lifelong interest in photography.
Upon returning to Ireland, Browne entered the Jesuit noviciate in Tullabeg. He studied at the Royal University of Ireland in Dublin, where he was classmates with James Joyce. In 1911 he began studying theology in Milltown. The following year, his uncle gave him a ticket aboard the newly built ship Titanic, to sail from Southampton to Queenstown, now Cobh. Browne brought his camera, as was his hobby, and took many pictures. When he arrived in Queenstown he would have continued on the crossing to America, but was told in no uncertain terms by his superior to return to Dublin. When word arrived days later of the sinking of the Titanic, Browne realised how valuable his photographs were and sold them to various newspapers leading to the publication all over the world.
Browne was ordained in 1915, and the following year was sent to Europe where he served as chaplain to the Irish Guards. During his time in the service, Browne was at the Battle of the Somme, at Flanders, Ypres, and many other places at the frontline of the war. He was wounded on five occasions, and was awarded a military cross and bar for valour in combat. During this time too he took photographs, recording life at the frontline.
Returning to Dublin in 1920, Browne experienced recurring ill health from his time in the war, and was sent to Australia in 1924. Never parting from his camera, he took countless photos of the places he saw on his way over, as well as in Australia. After returning, he was appointed to the Retreats and Mission staff, and travelled all across Ireland. By the time of his death in 1960, Browne had taken photographs in nearly every parish in Ireland. When his negatives were discovered, twenty five years later, there were in the order of 42,000 of them. Twenty three volumes of his work have now been published and the importance of his work has been recognised internationally.
The last parting: Jesuits and Armistice
At the end of the First World War, Irish Jesuits serving as chaplains had to deal with two main issues: their demobilisation and influenza. Some chaplains asked immediately to be demobbed back to Ireland; others wanted to continue as chaplains. Of the thirty-two Jesuits chaplains in the war, five had died, while sixteen were still serving.
Writing on 13 November 1918, Fr Frank Browne SJ describes the day of the Armistice:
Isn’t it grand to think that the end has come & come so well for our side: please God it will come for us at home soon, & equally well. Here all is excitement and rejoicing. I happened to be in Dieppe at the fateful 11 o’clock Monday last. I was at the Ordnance store outside which is a great railway siding... Eleven o’ clock was signaled by every engine furiously blowing its whistle. Then nearly all of them proceeded to career up & down the hacks – still whistling. On several of them men sat astride the boilers waving flats & ringing bells. This lasted for 20 mins. On the other side of the quarry Co. of Engineers burst a charge displacing several tons of rock, & then fired Verey lights & flares. But all this was nothing compared with the French outburst in the town. As I drove into the town our car was pelted with confetti by girls, all of whom were gay with tricolor ribbons. The Belgian emigres organised a march through the town with their military band and all the soldiers & Officers present. The bugles were blowing as they entered the main street, which was crowded with rejoicing people. Suddenly, the bugles stopped, & the Band struck up the Marseillaise. For a moment there was a kind of silence, then with a roar, the whole crowd of people took it up. Woman appeared at every window waving flags, & singing: assistants rushed to the doors of shops & joined in the great chorus: children shouted & sang & wriggled through the crowd. It was one of the most inspiring spontaneous demonstrations it has ever been my fortune to witness.