The Finn Family Photograph Album: The First Private Photograph Album in the Holy Land


President Reuven Rivlin welcomed His Royal Highness Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, marking the first official visit to the State of Israel by a member of the British Royal Family. Prince William’s father, HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, had previously visited Israel for the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, and had also visited the President in his residence after attending the funeral of Israel’s former president, Shimon Peres.

The President once again thanked HRH the Duke for his visit, and presented him with a moving and historic gift from the archives of the Yad Ben-Zvi Museum. In the presence of the original, the President presented him with a copy of an album of photographs taken between 1850 and 1865 by Elizabeth Ann Finn, wife of the then British Consul in Jerusalem. During this period, HRH Prince Edward – who went on to be King Edward VII – HRH the Duke of Cambridge’s great-great-great-grandfather visited the Holy Land. The album included pictures of the Prince’s visit in 1862, and a moving description of the welcome he received as published in the Magid Newspaper in an article written by President Rivlin’s great-grandfather, Yosef Rivlin, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in the Holy Land.

Presenting the gift to HRH the Duke, the President said, “One day you will be King of England, and I hope you will visit Israel once again, with your wife and children, and be able to fill for yourselves an album of happy memories in this land.” The photograph album of the Finn family is a private album originating from Ottoman Holy Land. The album contains 50 portrait photos, original Cartes de Visite. It is owned by the family of the British Consul James Finn, who served in Jerusalem from 1846-1863. The pictures were taken during the 1850s and 1860s. Some of the photographs collected in the album were taken in Jerusalem, by some of Jerusalem’s first photographers: Elizabeth Anne Finn, James Graham and Mendel John Diness. Other photographs were given to the Finns by visitors to the Consulate and by leading residents of Jerusalem. The album is, in fact, a veritable who’s who of the Holy City during that decisive period of the mid-nineteenth century, before, during and after the Crimean War. The album was collated by Mrs. Finn in the early twentieth century and includes her handwritten headings for the pictures.

Consul James and Mrs. Elizabeth Anne Finn: A family at the Crossroads of History

James Finn was born in London in July 1806 to a poor Catholic family of Irish extraction. His father was a simple solder, a deeply religious man, who converted to Protestantism. The young James was educated at a church school where he excelled at his studies. Lord Clarendon, later the British Foreign Secretary, took an interest in the boy, paving his way to a good education and status. He first married in 1838 but his wife and baby daughter died not long after. At that time, he was serving as a tutor for an aristocratic family while carrying out research on documents in the British Library. He was particularly interested in the Jewish religion and culture and was active in the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews. In 1845, with the encouragement of his patrons in high levels of government, Finn submitted his candidacy as British Consul to Jerusalem. Against all odds, and since no more suitable candidate was found, Finn was accepted.

Elizabeth Anne Finn was born in March 1825 in Warsaw, where her father Reverend Alexander McCaul was serving as an Anglican missionary, operating at the time among Catholics and Jews in Poland. The McCaul family travelled a great deal, living at times in Poland, Germany, England, Egypt and elsewhere. On his return to England, her father became a lecturer in Christian and Jewish theology. He was well-versed in Hebrew and in the early 1840s was active in establishing British missionary institutions in Jerusalem.

Elizabeth did not receive a formal education in her childhood and youth, her teachers being her father and friends of the family. She was a highly curious and very talented girl and learned seven languages fluently. She learned Hebrew at the age of three in Warsaw, and at four years old was already reading the Bible in English. James Finn and Elizabeth Anne McCaul first met in 1841 at an event celebrating the publication of Finn’s book on the Jews of Spain. In January 1846, a few months after Finn’s appointment as Consul in Jerusalem, the couple were married, leaving England immediately after this for Jerusalem.

Elizabeth Finn, the wife and helpmate of the British Consul in Jerusalem, was a central figure in British diplomatic activity in the Holy Land and in the missionary circles. She was very active in proffering help to the city’s residents and showed special interest in the Jews. She had learned Yiddish before coming to Jerusalem and learned the Ladino language from Vida, her Jewish maid. In Jerusalem she also learned Arabic. She was a very talented musician and served as the organist at the Anglican Church in Jerusalem.

The Finns lived in Jerusalem for seventeen years until 1863 and were pioneers in the efforts to encourage Jews to move outside of the Old City walls. They owned two houses: one in the Talbieh neighbourhood and one in Kerem Avraham, where they set up an agricultural farm that employed Jews. Their children, two boys and three girls, two of whom died in babyhood, were born in Jerusalem. James Finn was a consul of great influence, involved in all the social and diplomatic affairs in Jerusalem. During these years, he also acquired a number of opponents, and in 1863 was removed from office. The family returned to England in poverty and with heavy debts. James Finn died in England in 1872.

Elizabeth Anne Finn died in 1921 at the age of 96. The British charity Elizabeth Finn Care, originally established by Elizabeth Finn in 1897 as the Distressed Gentlefolk’s Aid Association, runs establishments for the welfare of the elderly and children with disabilities.

Elizabeth Finn edited her husband’s memoirs “Stirring Times” and, in addition to her diary, also published books and gave lectures describing her experiences during her years in Jerusalem.

Elizabeth Anne Finn, Photographer and Chronicler

Elizabeth Anne Finn is one of the early photographers in the Land of Israel. She was the first woman in the region to become involved in this new field, recognising its advantages for recording life in the country and British consular activity.

She was introduced to the wonders of photography by an elderly English missionary named George Wilson Bridges, who visited Jerusalem in the winter of 1850. Bridges’ photographic work was based on the Talbot method (using calotype ̶ an innovative process for those days for printing a picture from a negative, invented by the British scientist William Henry Fox Talbot). After he taught Elizabeth Finn how to take photographs, she contacted friends in England asking them to send her a camera and then began taking photographs herself.

In the autumn of 1853, James Graham, a noble Scotsman, arrived in Jerusalem to serve as the secretary of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews. Before coming, he heard of the hobby of the Consul’s wife and himself studied the photographic arts. He brought photographic equipment with him and soon became a highly successful amateur photographer who documented historical sites in the Holy Land and the surrounding areas. Mrs. Finn records that Graham trained Mendel John Diness, a Jewish convert to Christianity from their community “and successfully taught him this art. This was the beginning of photography in Jerusalem ...”

Photography became part of the social life of the Consulate in Jerusalem. In Elizabeth Finn’s album, as in her “Reminiscences”, public and personal life are intertwined. Family members and friends, official emissaries and guests, clergy from the various Christian communities and Jewish converts to Christianity – all find their place before the camera and form the fabric of the myriad faces and images that represent the activity of the European powers in Jerusalem in the 19th century.

During the visit to Jerusalem by Prince Alfred, the younger son of Queen Victoria, in March of 1859, the prince’s retinue selected photographs taken during his stay in the city. Elizabeth Finn did not record in her memoirs who photographed the prince and sadly the photograph that had been included in the album was lost.

A few years after the visit by his younger brother, in April 1862 Prince Albert Edward, Queen Victoria’s eldest son and Prince of Wales, visited Jerusalem. Elizabeth described his arrival with the following words:

“The road was lined with troops; regular cavalry with scarlet pennons to their lances were also on duty, and pretty well the whole population of Jerusalem turned out to salute H.R.H. As we passed the city gate the Royal salute was fired from the cannon of the Castle. The two Pashas dismounted but did not intrude upon the Royal party till after breakfast. It was then suggested that it would be more convenient for the Prince to be encamped closer to the city, and the Pasha advised that it should be at the great pine tree north-west of the city, under which Godfrey de Bouillon had pitched his tent when the city was captured by the Crusaders (though the Pasha did not know that), and this was done, as the Prince had declined all hospitality within the city.”

Elizabeth Anne McCaul Finn, Reminiscences of Mrs. Finn, member of the Royal Asiatic Society, London; Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1929

The picture was taken on April 1862 at the prince’s camp in Kerem ash-sheikh, north east of the Old City, by the delegation’s well-known photographer, Francis Bedford. The prince is standing next to the ancient pine tree, connected with the history of the Crusader military leader Godfrey de Bouillon. Mrs. Finn, who hosted the prince, received a copy of the photograph as a souvenir.

In 1913, at the age of 88, Elizabeth Anne Finn published her “Reminiscences”, which were dictated to an amanuensis and accompanied by a comprehensive study relying on journals and notes to validate the facts. It may be assumed that the arrangement of the pictures of the family and their friends in the album took place at that time.

The album includes photos taken in Jerusalem and in Europe. Those from Jerusalem were taken in a home photography studio in Jerusalem. They are marked by the simplicity of the studio’s furniture and decorations.

Most of the pictures are clearly studio portraits of the Cartes de Visite type that were most popular at that time, and on albumen prints. Some of the pictures have been retouched. The subjects are generally shown leaning on the back of a chair or other piece of furniture, since in those days a long exposure period was needed.

The photograph album and the archives of Consul Finn are held in the Yad Ben-Zvi Library in Jerusalem.

An Article (written by the great great grandfather of President Rivlin) describing the visit by Prince Edward in Jerusalem as published in the newspaper “HaMagid” 29 April, 1862 ̶ 29 Nisan, 5622

[HaMagid was the first newspapers published in the Hebrew language during the early years of the revival of the language for everyday use. The language was still in the early stages of development and uses a lot of archaic biblical and mishnaic language, very different from today’s Hebrew.]

. . . among the huge crowd who went out to meet His Royal Highness, the great and mighty, the exalted, Prince Edward, the son of Queen Victoria, the exalted crowned Queen of Britain, who was seen in person on the hills of Jerusalem with his retinue, the high and exalted dignitaries of England. The great Pasha, ruler of the city and the region and his high dignitaries received him far away from the city. And all these went out of the city ̶ all the high dignitaries of the consuls and their staff and the commanders of the soldiers, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds and their cavalry soldiers on horseback, all surrounding the camps in high honour and splendor, and all along the length of the road were placed armed men to their right and to their left. And His Royal Highness the Prince and his ministers and the Pasha and the dignitary, Mister Fin, the exalted Consul of England, all passed among them, while the “fire sticks” [rifles] were raised and sounding thunder and lightning, until they came to the place where they desired to seat him.

And yesterday, Wednesday, he paid respects to the Children of Israel, and His Highness appeared in the Lord’s temples, in the synagogues of our brothers, the Sephardi Jews, may God watch over them. And at the fourth hour before midnight (which is the tenth hour in the counting of the countries of Europe), he came, with his high dignitaries and the consuls to the great and glorious synagogue on the ruins of our Rabbi Yehuda HeChasid and honoured the Nobles of Judah, the leaders of the people, the wise and righteous men who received His Highness. They too hurried to crown him in honour and glory, and he went up to the platform of rugs with which they had prepared a seat for him. Then our Rabbi, the representative of our community , our respected teacher, may his light shine, went to the pulpit, to conduct his tunes, in song, to bless Her Majesty the Queen and her son, the Crown Prince, and played beautifully with his choir, a blessing to He who brings salvation to kings. And the nation’s leaders brought a letter to His Highness which they had prepared in his honour. And he listened to all that was written, also his eyes were raised up to the high [ceiling] of the synagogue and its splendor. And from there he went with his retinue to the city of Zion . - - - Speedily “shall thine eyes see a king in his beauty” [Jeremiah, 27] in “Jerusalem, a peaceful habitation” [Isaiah, 33], “let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad” [Psalms 14] . . .

Yosef Rivlin


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