Fr Browne Astor photo is actually Ismay

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A famous Fr Browne photo -


The man on the left bears a similarity, but is NOT William Walfdorf Astor, JJ's cousin.
I have checked a number of photographs.

As far as I am concerned it is a theory created to fit the use of the word "Astor" in the original Fr Browne album caption, based on the realisation that W.W. Astor was resident in Britain.

But cute as this theory is, where is the evidence for it?

I don't know who the man on the left is, but it is NOT any Astor.

I believe the Fr Browne "Astor" photo is actually Joseph Bruce Ismay, photographed at the train station, possibly with his wife.

There is some evidence that Ismay took the Waterloo train. I could be wrong, of course, but see what you think...

The photo shows a reporter (presumably) talking to the man who is being photographed, while his colleague fumbles with the back of his camera, having taken a picture.

Fr Browne would be more interested in the press photographer at work than his actual subject - which is the person barely seen between the man in the foreground [with his arms joined behind his back], and the woman.

This is an important personage, who has drawn a press team of reporter and photographer. J.J. Astor is meanwhile in France... the man on the left, whoever he is, is not the subject of the press interest, and is therefore irrelevant.

There is an extracted image of the man "being photographed," which is the key part of the Fr Browne caption.


I also post an image of a similarly bowler-hatted gent, showing the same side of his face. This is Ismay - and just a week or so later.


Look at the facial folds and dimples.

There is little doubt in my mind (unless someone can show Ismay overnighted in Southampton or travelled down by car) that this is one and the same man. The Ismays had a house in London.

Fr Browne has photographed J. Bruce Ismay, the Managing Director of the White Star Line, at 9.45am on Wednesday April 10, 1912, and mistakenly recalled the name later.

It's a short-name important First Class guy, what did he call himself again?

- Astor - Ismay - easily done.

"To see us off" in my view refers to the Press. The reporter and photographer are seeing off the Boat Train special.

The man on the left is not "seeing us off." That makes no sens and does not relate to the second half of the caption.

But if the Press are seeing us off (making a bit of a fuss, so we are all important) then the full caption unites perfectly with the man being photographed.

Crop the picture to eliminate the man on the left who is looking at Fr Browne's lens. Now it all makes sense...

What say ye?
I do realise that Wilton Oldham says this on page 186 of his book The Ismay Line -

Mr and Mrs J. Bruce Ismay motored down from Hill Street... they all stayed the night at the South Western...

Later Mrs Bruce Ismay and the children watched the Titanic depart, Oldham writes, and then set off on their motor tour of Devonshire and Wales.

But he was writing his account decades later, probably based only on recollection. What if only the wife and kids stayed in Southampton to meet Daddy later? What if he was detained in London, whatever the original plan?

I'm struck by the very close resemblances above. Is Oldham wrong? Is there a newspaper or other source as to how Ismay got down to Southampton?
Hi Senan!

Yes, it is not W.W. Astor on the photo.

Regarding Ismay, I am not sure if it is him. If Father Browne is not completely mistaken, this photo was taken in London on April 10th before the departure of the Titanic Special. It left London at 9:45 arriving in Southampton at 11:30.
Ismay himself said at the Inquiry;
Senator SMITH: Where did you board the ship?
Mr. ISMAY: At Southampton.
Senator SMITH: At what time?
Mr. ISMAY: I think it was 9:30 in the morning.
I can not imagine that he was mistaken about roughly 2 hours!

If it is really Ismay there must be somewhere a mistake. Photo, Ismays memory etc. Regarding his wife, so far as I can see from different photos were both are together, she was a little smaller, and it don't look for me that she is wearing high heels or something of that kind. (Ismay was roughly a head larger.)
Ismay was if I remember right exceptionally tall for his time - 6ft or thereabouts, which would make him 6" taller than the average Edwardian Brit. Yer man there looks pretty average in that respect, Senan.

Bob Read

Active Member
This photo appeared in E.E. O'Donnell's "The Last Days of the Titanic" (copyright 1997) which featured Fr. Browne's photos. It was captioned:

"For many years it was thought that the gentleman on the left was John Jacob Astor, who perished in the Titanic disaster. Frank Browne's description was apparently accurate, however when he said "To see us off!"; John Jacob Astor was not on the boat train, as he would not board the ship until it reached Cherbourg, France. Recent research has shown that it is his cousin. William Waldorf Astor, who had moved to England from the United States in 1890. Owner of Cliveden and husband of Nancy Astor (the second woman to become a Member of Parliament) W.W. Astor would become Parliamentary Secretary to Lloyd George during World War I and in 1919 would inherit his father's viscountcy."

Bob Read
Howdy all, thanks for the superb input.

Yes, JoJo, I think we have to take his evidence as the actual position...

So he was not on the 9.45am boat train that morning. His testimony seems to imply overnighting in Southampton... pity he doesn't say it explicitly.

The apparent lack of height is also an excellent point.

But I am still struck by the extraordinary resemblance...

I believe the man extracted in the middle picture above is the man "being photographed."

This man is an important personage - and he got on the ship. Fr Browne is thus misremembering the name of the important personality who got on the boat train and then got on the ship.

Now, in relation to this VIP, who we can see above, who got on the train and who then got on the ship (by inferring Fr Browne's state of mind from the writing in his caption) - why does this VIP, this "Astor" of the Titanic, not resemble any of the First Class male personalities we are all so familiar with?

Why does he instead closely resemble Ismay?

It is not William Waldorf Astor - absolutely not. That identification was based on the man standing on the left, who is not the subject of the photo, or at least very definitely not the subject of the caption.

I am in touch with Eddie O'Donnell SJ, most recently last week on another subject...

I believe the Fr Browne book (There is a new version coming out, by the way, to mark the centenary) was putting it far too high when it said "Recent research has shown that it is his cousin, William Waldorf Astor."

It's not WWA, so where is this "recent research" ?

That was always speculation, just as we are speculating here, conveyed to Fr Eddie by a single consultant (I am surmising) from the THS.
Just to clear up the William Waldorf Astor point.

This is the Mystery Man suggested to be WWA -


Look at his ear.

Now look at these pictures of the real WWA and his distinctive, oversize ears and bulldog eyes.



It's clear it is not the same man.

Furthermore the Mystery Man is aged in his early forties at the oldest.

William Waldorf Astor was sixty-four (64!!) in 1912. Whoever did this "recent research" to suggest that it was he, did not do a lot of it.

Here is a picture (below) of WWA in 1912. (He died in 1919).


It is clear that William Waldorf Astor appears nowhere in the Fr Browne picture and that the caption claim in the modern Fr Browne book is not true.

I don't know who Mystery Man is, obviously, but it is clear that there is no Astor at all in the Fr Browne picture.

Therefore the good padre is misremembering the short name, vowel-and-sibilant led, of the VIP being photographed who was later on the Titanic.

Whoever that was.
Sorry Jojo, the train time is wrong!!

(Who would take a 9.45am train from London to catch a Transatlantic liner sailing at 12 from Southampton? That is a crazy risk, especially when there was train strike concerns at the time, as per Emily Badman account, and coal shortages etc - steam trains! There is zero safety margin for anyone travelling down from London nigh on ten o'clock.)


Page 49 of the Fr Browne book says:

Frank Browne said the Boat Train left Waterloo Station at 9.45 a.m., yet several other Titanic passengers recalled afterwards that the train departed as early as 8:00 a.m.

The train from Waterloo to Southampton takes an hour and a half today. I'm sure it was exactly the same in 1912.

So Ismay can get on the train at 8.00 and board the ship in Southampton at 9.30 as he testifies.
In fact that is BANG ON. (The train went right to the quay... no transfer time. Straight onto ship.)

So that testimony now actually becomes a point in favour of Ismay taking the train... he disliked driving, and that point comes out a couple of times in the Oldham book.

And I'm sorry, but that just looks to me very much like Ismay.

The height thing, I grant you, is a puzzle... but maybe he's sitting on his suitcase!! We can't actually see.
Who is going to risk taking a supposed 9.45am train for a noon Transatlantic sailing in these circumstances, below?

This is from The Times of Sailing Day, Wednesday April 10, 1912.

>>Sorry Jojo, the train time is wrong!!

(Who would take a 9.45am train from London to catch a Transatlantic liner sailing at 12 from Southampton? That is a crazy risk, especially when there was train strike concerns at the time, as per Emily Badman account, and coal shortages etc - steam trains! There is zero safety margin for anyone travelling down from London nigh on ten o'clock.)


Page 49 of the Fr Browne book says:

Frank Browne said the Boat Train left Waterloo Station at 9.45 a.m., yet several other Titanic passengers recalled afterwards that the train departed as early as 8:00 a.m.<<

Hello Senan,

sorry not much time to search for any details.
To make it short;

Special Boat Train No. 1 at 8 a. m. (saw also as somewhere as the 7:30 a.m.); 2nd and 3rd Class passengers arriving in Southampton Dock shortly before 9:30.

Special Boat Train No. 2 leaving London at 9:45 a.m.; 1st class passengers arriving Southampton Dock shortly before 11:30 a.m.
Hello JoJo,

I see this claim in Titanic Voices - page 95 or 99, I think. Two trains - but why 1st Class passengers should be denied the right to board the early train is beyond me!

Anyway, let's accept it for the moment...

Fr Browne was a First Class passenger. It's an exclusively First Class train. No riff raff.
The Press are there to photograph the important First Class guy, and Fr Browne snaps them doing so.

Then who is this First Class gentleman?

We know what nearly all of them looked like (all except the very lesser known). Why would the Press be photographing a person who was very lesser known??

A very tiny point, meanwhile, but some of the gents above are wearing gloves, as it its the cold early morning, rather than warmed-up mid morning...

Is the Titanic Voices two-train report corroborated anywhere?
Hello Senan,

you can find it also in Triumph and Tragedy and several others.
Somehow I am under the impression that Ismay himself said somewhere that he was in Southampton. But I could be mistaken.

[I am wondering if there is possibly a mistake regarding the press there in London. Possibly they used the same (if they were allowed to do so) or another train to get to Southampton to make some images of the new ship. But that is only speculation.]
Hi JoJo,

Just to think this out further...

Fr Browne's "Astor" photo (p. 48 of the Album book) is the second of three in the train journey series.

We know this because the man with his hands behind his back, seen to the extreme left of the platform picture on page 47, reappears in the "Astor" photo on page 48, having walked down the platform...


...And crossed over, past the trolleys, to stand on the fringes of the group in the second photograph - still with his back turned, and still with his hands joined behind his back.



So here's the rest of the first picture in the sequence. We can see that there are toffs in top hats. First Class passengers are getting on this train...

[Toffs in top hats do not have steerage or second-class friends... none they would admit to...]

Forget about the alleged train times for a moment. They may not be real - but the photographs are real, literal snapshots in time.


We thus have the Press photographing a First Class passenger, bound for the Titanic, who looks exceptionally like J. Bruce Ismay, and who must be well-known because of the Press interest in him in the first place.

Yet it's been a week and nobody has suggested an alternative identity...

Shouldn't we be able to suggest a First Class Titanic passenger it is likely to be, if it is not Ismay?

If my impression is wrong, well and good, but let's have some alternative candidates!
Senan: Since we can all appreciate your fine forensic work on this subject matter, I would appreciate your input on my cabinet photo of Hesketh (SEE: Engineers) as compared with the small B & W portrait image from the engineers memorial of 1912.

Michael Cundiff
Hello Senan, I think you may be right about 'the man being photographed' being Ismay, and the mystery man is not Astor, but also looking at your photo's in your post No 1220, the man with his arms behind his back (between the mystery man and the photographer) appears to be wearing gloves, a brolly hooked over his arm, and appears to have a long overcoat, he also seems to have two shiny buttons on his cuff. Now look at the other picture of the man with his arms behind his back, he does not appear to be wearing gloves, but he may have a brolly over his arm, I can't see the shiny buttons, and his overcoat does not look to be as long as the other man with his arms behind his back. The mystery man looks to be a distinguished fellow, and could well be a military officer type of chap. But he could also have been a railway official (station manager perhaps, they did wear bowler hats), who was there to see that all ran smoothly, and got himself photographed whilst observing the proceedings, but I am just guessing at that. I will have to scout through my books to see if I can come up with any other pictures that look like they could be this gentleman. Hope you are well Senan, and that the family are all OK. Keep up the good work my friend.

Best regards, Martin.
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