24 January 1826 Birth of Albert Isaacs, first photographer of Holy Land

Albert Augustus Isaacs, photographer. The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem. 1856. Albumen silver print, 21.9 x 27.5 cm. CCA Collection. PH1983:0517.01:013

Albert Augustus Isaacs, photographer. The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem. 1856. Albumen silver print, 21.9 x 27.5 cm. CCA Collection. PH1983:0517.01:013

Isaacs, Rev. Albert Augustus. The cause of missions to Jews possessed a very intelligent and warm-hearted advocate in the Rev. Albert Augustus [281] Isaacs, who was himself, as his name indicates, of Jewish parentage, and who throughout his long life, identified himself with every movement for the welfare of his brethren according to the flesh.

Bernstein details his life and career:

Albert Augustus Isaacs "A Pictorial Tour of The Holy Land" (London: Wertheim, Macintosh, & Hunt, 1863), p.44-45

Albert Augustus Isaacs “A Pictorial Tour of The Holy Land” (London: Wertheim, Macintosh, & Hunt, 1863), p.44-45

Mr. Isaacs was born in the island of Jamaica, on January 24th, 1826, at Berry Hill, a coffee plantation, of which his father was the owner. Jamaica was at that time one of the most prosperous colonies of Great Britain. His father, Isaac Isaacs, had become a convert to Christianity some years previously. We have no authentic particulars of his father’s life, although we have an idea that in the story of “The Star of Peace,” by “Ben Abram,” which ran through the first two volumes of “The Everlasting Nation,” the adventures of Isaac Da Costa, in Jamaica and in England, were those of his own father.


Albert was his second son, and was sent to England for his education, which was received at Maze Hill, Greenwich, under Dr. Smithers. The religious instruction in the school, and preparation for confirmation, though slight in themselves, led him to serious reflection, and were the means of deciding him to give his heart to Christ at the age of fourteen, and they influenced his future career. When he left school Albert returned to Jamaica for four years, at the expiration of which time, on the recommendation of Canon Carus, he entered Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, being a contemporary of one who afterwards became master, Dr. Perowne, and of Bishop Moule, of Mid-China. Young Isaacs’ residence at Cambridge was marked by a strict adherence to his collegiate studies,[282] which he commenced daily at five o’clock in the morning.

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His religious life was very fruitful, he being a teacher in the Jesus Lane Sunday School, the founder of the Cambridge University Prayer Union, and the organizer in his college of successful efforts on behalf of the Bible Society and the Church Missionary Society. He himself ardently desired to become a missionary, his sympathies being especially drawn towards East Africa. The door, however, was not open in that direction, and so after taking his degree in 1850, he was ordained in the same year by Dr. Davys, Bishop of Peterborough, and licensed to the curacy of the parish church in that city, of which the Bishop’s son, a well known evangelical of those days, was the vicar.

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If our supposition about “Ben Abram’s” story is true, the following information from the last chapter but one of the “Star of Peace” is interesting. We read there that Isaac Da Costa (his father) had so arranged his movements as to be present on an occasion of great interest to himself and others, and with no little pleasure was looking forward to the opportunity of witnessing his son’s ordination. He had been unable to say what might be the day of his arrival, as the voyage from Jamaica to New York was made at irregular intervals, and it would appear that he arrived too late to witness that rite, for we read, “All was silent as the night in the little cathedral town in which Da Costa’s son had begun his ministerial work. It was late when the last train arrived from the west, and a cab containing the father drove to the lodgings [283] of the son.

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The sound of a bell vibrated upon the ears of those who were slumbering; but it was not so loud as to arouse them to consciousness. But early in the morning a messenger arrived from the chief hotel to announce the arrival of Mr. Da Costa. Telegrams were not so far available in those days as to enable him to communicate the fact of his arrival. It was Saturday night, and Da Costa had calculated on the enjoyment of the services of the Lord’s Day amidst the scenes of his son’s labours. As these consisted of four separate services—in whole or in part—he had the evidence that his lot was not cast in idle, although it was in pleasant, places.”

stern isaacs

Mr. Isaacs remained in the curacy at Peterborough for two years, discharging his ministerial duties with zeal and ability. In 1852 he became an association secretary of the L.J.S., having charge of the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincoln. The following year he was appointed assistant clerical and association secretary for the north metropolitan district. Mr. Isaacs had married the eldest daughter of the Rev. J. M. Johnson, rector of Scoulton, Norfolk, and a niece of Lord Berners. She was a remarkably clever linguist and a student of Hebrew. She died in 1856, after a very brief married life. After her death Mr. Isaacs visited Palestine in the winter of 1856-7, and found the particulars gleaned during that visit of much subsequent use in his advocacy of the cause. He gathered the materials for subsequent books, took numerous views of the country, and bought a property near Jaffa called “The Model Farm,”[284] which, under an edict of the Sublime Porte, was made over to him as a British subject. He visited Palestine again in 1869, and was a traveller also in various parts of the world.

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Mr. Isaacs married, secondly, in 1861, the eldest daughter of the Rev. S. H. Causton, Vicar of Highgate, and a niece of Lord Lilford, who died in 1866, leaving two children, Miss Annie Isaacs and the Rev. Wilfrid Henry Isaacs. Thirty years later, in 1896, Mr. Isaacs married Mrs. Peppin, the widow of Surgeon-Major Peppin, and daughter of James Herdman, Esq., of Zion House, co. Tyrone, Ireland, who survived him.

Mr. Isaacs was Jubilee Secretary for the L.J.S. during the year commencing February 15, 1858, and ending on the same date in 1859, which post entailed upon him much additional labour, to which he always looked back with considerable pleasure. He resigned his secretaryship in July, 1859, having served the Society with great acceptance for nearly seven years.

Mr. Isaacs now went to Jamaica on a short visit to his family, and improved the occasion by giving lectures, which were attended by crowds, in order to stir up an interest in the Holy Land. He had given a very great deal of attention to photography, a difficult pursuit for the amateur in those days, and was the first to introduce it into his native country. On his return to England, he occupied successively posts at Laura Chapel, Bath; in London; at Hanford, in Staffordshire; and at the Priory Church, Malvern.[285]

In 1866, he was appointed by Lord Berners, vicar of Christ Church, Leicester, in his old diocese of Peterborough, where for more than 25 years he laboured in season and out of season, carrying on his ministry on staunch Protestant and evangelical lines, and being surrounded by a large band of fellow-workers, who heartily appreciated his teaching and work. The parish was thoroughly re-organized; numerous useful agencies started; the church restored and its accommodation increased; schools and other buildings erected. Mr. Isaacs was known as “the Jew of Leicester,” and continued his great interest in all efforts for the conversion of his brethren to Christianity. He also rendered much and conspicuous voluntary aid to other Societies, notably the Church Missionary Society, the Church Pastoral Aid Society, and the Church Association, as well as to all local institutions and enterprises.

Mr. Isaacs took great interest in elementary education, and was returned at the head of the poll, by a majority of nearly 4,000 votes over the second candidate, at the first School Board election in Leicester. He also greatly interested himself in, and was successful in raising the tone of the Police Force, the members of which most thoroughly enjoyed the winter and summer treats which he arranged for them. Mr. Isaacs was also chaplain of the Leicester gaol, a work in which he took the keenest interest, and where he was the means of leading many a sin-stricken soul to the Saviour of sinners; and reforming the lives of those who had been led astray principally [286] through strong drink. The work at Leicester was thus of a very arduous character. Notwithstanding the poverty of his parish, Mr. Isaacs raised as much as £25,000 for various objects during his incumbency. His whole ministry eloquently testified to the power of a simple and faithfully proclaimed Gospel.

In 1891 Mr. Isaacs was appointed to the incumbency of St. Augustine’s, Bath, or, as it had long been known, Portland Chapel, which position he held till 1899. It was a post after his own heart, with its associations and traditions handed down from a long succession of faithful Protestant ministers. For a short time he was in charge of Eaton Chapel, in London. Mr. Isaacs frequently took chaplaincies on the continent, especially in Holland and Germany, and in 1902 he became resident English chaplain to Christ Church, Düsseldorf, and ministered to the congregation there up to the day of his death, on Sunday, November 15, 1903.

His home-call was very sudden, and found him in full work, just as he would have desired. He had no previous illness.

The funeral took place on Thursday morning, November 19, at the beautiful Friedhof cemetery at Düsseldorf, where he rests. Amongst the company present were Mr. Mulvany, the British Consul, with Mrs. and Miss Mulvany, and about 120 other friends, mostly attendants at the Consulate Chapel. The memorial sermons were preached on the following Sunday in the Consulate Chapel by the Rev. T. H. Sparshott. When Mr. Isaacs went there the congregation[287]numbered only about thirteen persons. He soon gathered round him, however, an attached people, upon whose affections he obtained a strong hold, and his ministry was very gratefully welcomed.

Not only did he increase the attendance at the Sunday services till an excellent congregation was built up, but on Thursday afternoons, at his own residence, he held Bible readings and social gatherings, which were warmly appreciated by a large number of young men and women. Those who understand the intense loneliness of British residents in a continental city, especially one somewhat off the beaten route of tourists, will readily comprehend how much such kind hospitality and friendly intercourse must have meant to strangers in a strange land.

Mr. Isaacs’ travels familiarized him with Palestine, and he wrote “The Dead Sea” (1857); and “A Pictorial Tour in the Holy Land” (1858). He was also the author of the well-known “Biography of the Rev. Henry Aaron Stern, D.D.” (1886); and the editor of four volumes of “The Everlasting Nation” (1889-92).

Amongst his other publications may be mentioned “Emma Herdman, Missionary Labours in the Empire of Morocco” (1900); “The Fountain of Siena, an Episode in the Life of John Ruskin” (1900); “In the Lord,” a series of articles, published in the “English Churchman” (1901); a series of articles entitled “The Tabernacle and the Temple,” published in the “Protestant Alliance” magazine (1902); followed by a second series in the same magazine, (1903), entitled “The Protestants of the[288] Bible”; and “The New Vicar” (1903), published posthumously.


Besides his literary gifts, Mr. Isaacs possessed considerable gifts and talents in art and in music, being a keen judge of both. He had some knowledge of colloquial French, Italian, and German, and not long before his death gave a short address in German at a mission hall on “I am the way, the truth and the life,” which was listened to with marked attention. He had promised to give a second address on the Wednesday which followed his death.

Mr. Isaacs was a man of keen intellect, marked ability, deeply taught by the Spirit of God, and a faithful servant of Christ during his long ministerial career of fifty-three years. His Jewish descent, his acquaintance with the language and customs of the Jews, his sympathy with them and zeal for their conversion made him a strong and an acceptable advocate in the cause of Jewish missions. He was a Life Member of the L.J.S., and frequently attended the meetings of the Committee, where his long and varied experience, and prudent counsels were fully appreciated.

It will be easily gathered from the above that Mr. Isaacs’ life was extremely rich in incident and experience. He was blessed with wonderful strength and health, which he attributed greatly to total abstinence from alcohol and smoking, and enjoyed the friendship of many prominent people, amongst whom may be mentioned Prince Münster.

Mr. Isaacs in his own person was a proof of the [289] success of Jewish evangelization, and of its far-reaching consequences, and we would close this brief biography of our departed friend with the last words from his “Star of Peace”:—

“When Isaac Da Costa arranged for the baptism of his children he was, in the providence of God, opening the floodgates of blessing for himself and family. The consequences were to be widespread as well as important. Up to that time, not one of his family in any of its branches had ever been brought out of Judaism into the full revelation in Christ of the Law and the Prophets. But when he closed his eyes, he left behind him the record of every member of his family but one, both on his own and on his wife’s side, having embraced the Christian faith, and thus set their seal to the truth and inspiration of God’s Holy Word.”

Prayer: Lord, you who open the eyes of the blind, gave the gift of artistic vision, exploratory impulse, and photographic skills to Albert Augustus Isaacs. His photographs of the Holy Land stand as testimony to the beauty of the place, and your faithfulness to your people Israel. Thank you for the life of this man of faith, servant of God, traveller, pioneer of new technology, writer, and supported of your people. May we too use our gifts of creativity and imagination to develop character and ministry that testifies to your power, presence and provision. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.



Approved biography for Albert Augustus Isaacs
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

Isaacs was born in Jamaica, educated at Cambridge, and died in Düsseldorf; the well-traveled reverend was known as “the Jew of Leicester” for his efforts in the conversion of Jews to Christianity. It is not known when he first took an interest in photography, but when Isaacs made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1856, the camera was to be his witness. As he explained in his 1857 travelogue, The Dead Sea: “We well know how often the pencil is proved to be treacherous and deceptive; while on the other hand the facsimile of the scene must be given by the aid of the photograph. This consideration induced me to determine that . . . I would visit these places, and not only judge for myself, but endeavour likewise to give the public the best means of arriving at a just conclusion.” Isaacs did most of his work with waxed-paper negatives, well suited to the hot climate and extended travels that he faced. At some point, the reverend himself underwent a sort of conversion.

As Isaacs recalled late in life in a letter to John Ruskin: “I can speak of this authoritatively, having been the first person (1856) to take any photographs of importance in the Holy Land — and indeed the first who had taken any by the then new and beautiful collodion process.”

Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007)

This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Artand is included here with permission.

About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK
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