How the British broke the great Koh-i-Noor apart

Manoshi Bhattacharya
Manoshi BhattacharyaJun 04, 2016 | 09:31

How the British broke the great Koh-i-Noor apart

The great diamond was set in a bracelet above his elbow, flashing fire on the white sleeve. It was in the shape of an egg, an inch-and-a-half long and an inch wide, set between diamonds half its size. Against the glittering backdrop of his court, sat the "Lion of Punjab" dressed in plain white. He wore no other ornament save a single string of enormous pearls round the waist.


He had but one seeing eye which was at once shrewd and impish. Restraint played upon his lips as he watched the eyes of the European diplomatic mission fly from the splendors of his court to rest on his sleeve.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh, himself a grandfather, soon developed a fondness for governor-general Lord Auckland's young nephew, a junior army officer posted to India. He let him take the jewel in his hand.

The Koh-i-Noor was awe-inspiring in its perfection. It was not often, thought William, that a man held three million pounds in his palm. But one could not think long about its money value while gazing down at its brilliance, unmarred by any flaw. It was perfect.

With the maharaja's death, the British attitude towards the Sikhs changed. In December 1845, the First Anglo-Sikh War took place. The young Maharaja Dalip Singh tendered his submission to the governor general. At a subsequent durbar held at Lahore, the then governor general, Sir Henry Hardinge, asked to see the Koh-i-Noor.

The 2nd Anglo-Sikh War resulted in forcible gifting of the Koh-i-Noor to the queen of England. In reality, it was Lord Dalhousie's gift to Queen Victoria.

Colonel B Ramsay recalls: Mr Edwards, the under-secretary to government in the foreign department, was put in charge of it. He was evidently extremely nervous, and carried it round himself from one staff officer to another. Just as he placed it in my hands, Sir Henry Hardinge asked for him; I naturally passed it on to the next officer, but when Edwards hurried back and demanded the precious jewel, I never shall forget the agony depicted on his face, as he rushed down the ranks of staff officers, frantically demanding it!


Sir Henry then, with a pleasant smile, fastened it himself on the arm of the little king, afterwards patting him on the back in a kindly manner.

The Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1848-'49 resulted in the annexation of Punjab by the East India Company and the forcible gifting of the Koh-i-Noor to the queen of England. In reality, it was governor general Lord Dalhousie's gift to Queen Victoria. A physician, Dr John Login, took charge of the Punjab treasury and the great diamond.

The doctor was, however, unhappy at the way it was taken from the Sikhs and writes: There is a report going about since last mail that, much to the honour of our dear little queen, she has declined to accept the Koh-i-Noor as a gift, under the circumstances in which it has been offered her; indeed, I shall rejoice to hear that this is true, and I am sure that many of her subjects will rejoice with me.

I think I told you that I had urged Henry Lawrence to propose to Lord Dalhousie that the queen's subjects all over the empire should be allowed to embrace the opportunity of showing their love and goodwill, by offering it to her. I feel certain that it would be easy to raise a sufficient sum to purchase it and it would have more value in her eyes, given her in this way by her people, as a token of their respect and honour, the money to be spent for the good and benefit of her new subjects here, by making the Punjab to bloom like a garden. This may easily be done, by giving employment to the 100,000 men who have been cast adrift, making roads, bridges, and canals, and establishing schools among them, and thus showing that we are above taking anything from them in a shabby way.


Queen Victoria did not live up to Dr Login's expectations. Haunted by the story of the curse that went with it, the diamond was cut into three. It was put out for public display in the exhibition of 1851.

Deeply distressed, Lord Dalhousie wrote: The Koh-i-Noor is badly cut. It is rose and not brilliant-cut, and of course won't sparkle like the latter. But, it should not have been shown in a huge space. In the Tosha khana at Lahore, Dr Login used to show it on a table covered with a black velvet cloth, and relieved by the dark colour all round.

Last updated: April 04, 2018 | 17:29
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