The Curse of the Delhi Purple Sapphire
When curator Peter Tandy happened upon an unremarkable purple amethyst in a gemstone cabinet of the Natural History Museum, he had no idea of the strange tale that was about to unfold. Incorrectly identified as a sapphire in the nineteenth century, the Delhi Purple Sapphire had lain undisturbed for thirty years following its bequeathment to the museum. When Peter removed the gem from its box, he found a note tucked away beneath. What that note revealed was an amazing tale of tragedy. This innocent-looking stone was described as being 'trebly cursed' and was to become one of the most intriguing exhibits in the museum’s history.
The Curse Begins
In 1857, India was thrown into turmoil when an uprising against the British brought chaos and destruction to the country. Eventually, the uprising was suppressed by the British Army but not before the cauldron of resentment and hatred boiled over and many lives were lost. Ultimately, it forced the British to examine their attitude to the customs and traditions of other countries. In the short term however, the British Army wanted to send out a clear message and wreaked revenge on the population of India. During this period, it was not unusual for India’s temples and palaces to be looted and for British soldiers to take valuables and treasures back home. One of these temples was the temple of Indra in Cawnpore (Kanpur). The temple was dedicated to the Hindu god of war and thunderstorms, Indra. Before he left India, a Bengal Cavalryman Colonel W. Ferris, took what he believed to be a purple sapphire from the temple. He then returned home to his family. As soon as he returned to England, Ferris began to suffer a series of financial misfortunes which brought the family to the brink of collapse. At first Ferris blamed his own poor judgement but when every member of the family also suffered a series of debilitating illnesses, his thoughts turned to the gem. His fears were confirmed when he lent the stone to a friend of the family who inexplicably committed suicide.
By 1890 the gem had come into the possession of Edward Heron-Allen. Heron-Allen was one of the most respected scholars of his time. A polymath, writer and scientist, his interests were broad and his talents abundant. Heron-Allen was certainly not a man who would be influenced by superstition. Perhaps because he was such a rational man, he agreed to accept the stone in 1890 from Ferris’ beleaguered son. Soon after taking possession of the gem, this rational scientist abandoned all reason and began to attribute a series of unfortunate events to the curse of the stone. In a bid to neutralize the power of the curse Heron-Allen had it bound with a silver ring fashioned as a double headed snake. He also attached two amethyst scarab beetles and inscribed the ring with symbols of the zodiac. In the years that followed the stone was quiet, the only hint that it was cursed was the apparition of a Hindu Yogi that haunted Heron-Allen. The Yogi appeared in the study of the family home searching desperately for the sapphire.
The Curse Awakens
In 1902 Heron-Allen reluctantly agreed to lend the Delhi Sapphire to a friend. The friend was immediately beset by a series of unlucky events. He returned the gem to Heron-Allen who almost immediately began to suffer misfortunes again. In frustration he cast the stone into Regent’s Canal. Heron-Allen must have believed that he was rid of the curse once and for all. Unfortunately, the sapphire had other ideas. Some months later the ring was dredged from the canal and taken to a local jeweller. The jeweller immediately recognised the stone as the one he had mounted on a ring for Heron-Allen. Believing that he was performing a kindness, he returned the ring. When a friend asked to borrow the jewel, Heron-Allen once again lent it out. This time the unfortunate recipient was a professional singer who never sang again after wearing the cursed gem. Exasperated, Heron-Allen packed the Delhi Sapphire into seven boxes filled with charms. He then deposited it in the safe of his bank with instructions for it not to be opened until after his death.
In 1944, Heron-Allen died. Despite insisting that the box containing the Delhi Sapphire should not be opened for 33 years after his death, Heron- Allen’s daughter wisely disposed of it as quickly as she could and sent it to the Natural History Museum. There it stayed until 1972, languishing in a drawer until curator Peter Tandy uncovered the sapphire and the strange letter enclosed:
"To – Whomsoever shall be the future possessor of this Amethyst. These lines are addressed in mourning before he, or she, shall assume the responsibility of owning it.
This stone is trebly accursed and is stained with blood, and the dishonour of everyone who has ever owned it. It was looted from the treasure of the Temple of the God Indra at Cawnpore during the Indian mutiny in 1855 and brought to this country by Colonel W. Ferris of the Bengal Cavalry. From the day he possessed it he was unfortunate, and lost both health and money. His son who had it after his death, suffered the most persistent ill-fortune till I accepted the stone from him in 1890. He had given it once to a friend, but the friend shortly afterwards committed suicide and left it back to him by will.
From the moment I had it, misfortunes attacked me until I had it bound round with a double headed snake that had been a finger ring of Heydon the Astrologer, looped up with Zodiacal plaques and neutralized between Heydon’s magic Tau and two amethyst scaraboei of Queen Hatasu’s period, brought from Der el-Bahari (Thebes). It remained thus quietly until 1902, though not only I, but my wife, Professor Ross, W.H.Rider, and Mrs Hadden, frequently saw in my library the Hindu Yoga, who haunts the stone trying to get it back. He sits on his heels in a corner of the room, digging in the floor with his hands, as of searching for it.
In 1902, under protest I gave it to a friend, who was thereupon overwhelmed with every possible disaster. On my return from Egypt in 1903 I found she had returned it to me, and after another great misfortune had fallen on me I threw it into the Regent’s Canal. Three months afterwards it was bought back to me by a Wardour St. dealer who had bought if from a dredger. Then I gave it to a friend who was a singer, at her earnest wish. The next time she tried to sing, her voice was dead and she has never sung since.
I feel that it is exerting a baleful influence over my new born daughter so I am now packing it in seven boxes and depositing it at my bankers, with directions that it is not to see the light again until I have been dead thirty three years. Whoever shall open it, shall first read this warning, and then do so as he pleases with the Jewel. My advice to him or her is to cast it into the sea. I am forbidden by the Rosicrucian Oath to do this, or I would have done it long ago."
(Signed) Edward Heron-Allen
Source: 'Specimen of the Month: The Cursed Amethyst':The Natural History Museum 21st November 2013.
The Curse Continues
What of the Purple Delhi Sapphire today? It still resides at the museum and is often on public display, intriguing and fascinating the public in equal measure. The museum itself is of the belief that Heron-Allen manufactured much of the story which he later put into his book, ‘The Purple Sapphire’ written under the nom de plume Christopher Blayre. Nevertheless, rumour still abounds that the gem exerts an evil influence on those close to it. In 2004 John Whittaker, a curator at the museum, was asked to transport the stone to a lecture at the Heron-Allen Society. On the journey there, Whittaker and his wife were caught in a terrible thunderstorm and only just escaped serious injury. The second time he was asked to transport it he became violently ill and the third time he collapsed in agony, only to pass a kidney stone some hours later. Curse or coincidence? You decide.
The Purple Delhi Sapphire has earned the name the Gem of Sorrow. Is it really cursed or is the bad luck that seems to follow it a self fulfilling prophesy? Some of course believe that the whole story was manufactured by Heron-Allen but interestingly his grandson Ivor, refuses to touch the gem. For now this ordinary amethyst wrongly described as a Sapphire, lives in a display cabinet in London. Perhaps the curse will only truly be over when it is returned to the place it truly belongs, a Hindu temple a world away in India.