Isabella Lilias Trotter: personal papers, writings and artwork

Scope and Content

Throughout her time in Algeria Lilias Trotter kept a diary, in the early years illustrated with miniature watercolours of scenes and people she had seen. These, together with the early journals and letters home comprise the collection of her personal papers, which form the core of the archive of the Algiers Mission Band.

Administrative / Biographical History

Lilias Trotter is known today as the founder and first leader of the Algiers Mission Band, and as a painter and writer of devotional books.

She was born on July 14th 1853, in London, to Alexander and Isabella Trotter. The family was Christian, and Lilias’s faith deepened in her early twenties when she came under the influence of the ‘Higher Life’ movement (also known as the Keswick movement). At this time she began working with disadvantaged women in London.

At about the same time, Lilias met the painter and art critic, John Ruskin. Lilias became Ruskin’s protegée and visited him at his Lake District home, Brantwood, to further her artistic education. It soon became apparent that she could not give herself both to her Christian ministry and to the demands of Ruskin and art. Matters came to a head when Ruskin insisted that her future as an artist would require her to ‘give herself up to art’. Lilias chose the former and committed to her work with women in London.

It was in May 1887, at a mission meeting, that Lilias first felt a personal calling to serve as a missionary in North Africa. She applied to the North Africa Mission (NAM), but was turned down as medically unfit for strenuous work in a hot climate. Undeterred, she asked permission of the NAM to go independently, and set off the following year – March 1888 –at the age of 35 for Algiers, with two women friends.

In due course the trio set up home in the Casbah, began to learn Arabic and ministered as best they could until their language ability improved. The Algiers Mission Band (AMB) was formally constituted in 1907, and its headquarters moved to Dar Naama (the House of Grace), an old Turkish palace above the city in the area known as El Biar. From this base, the AMB, under Lilias’ leadership, set up mission stations along the coast and eventually inland, ministering to women and children, and, when men joined the Band, to boys and men. At the time of her death in 1928 there were 13 such mission homes staffed by over 30 missionaries.

During her 40 years in Algiers, Lilias produced a steady stream of illustrated literature: initially these took the form of journals for supporters at home, and tracts for distribution in Algeria. She wrote two illustrated devotional books in English: 'Parables of the Cross and Parables of the Christ-Life', an exposition of the ‘I am’ sayings in John’s Gospels for the Sufi Brotherhoods of southern Algeria called 'The Way of the Sevenfold Secret', and an illustrated travel book to introduce readers to the country, called 'Between the Desert and the Sea'.

[See attached document for more detailed biographical history; copy also available in the Special Collections Reading Room]

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