The ‘Delhi purple sapphire’, a gemstone that is believed by many to be “cursed”, will go on public display at the vault in the Natural History Museum in London on Wednesday.
A spokesman of the Museum said on Monday that the sapphire was brought to the UK by a Bengal cavalryman Colonel W Ferris after being looted from the Temple of Indra in Kanpur during the Indian Mutiny in 1857. The soldier thereafter lost money and suffered from ill health. His son suffered the same fate after inheriting it. A family friend who possessed it for a short time committed suicide.
Edward Heron-Allen, a scientist and friend of writer Oscar Wilde was the last owner. He acquired the stone in 1890 and was immediately beset by misfortunes. He twice gave the stone to friends who had asked for it — one “was thereupon overwhelmed by every possible disaster”, and the other, a singer, found “her voice was dead and gone and she has never sung since.”
He even claimed to have thrown the amethyst into Regent’s Canal only for it to be returned to him three months later by a dealer who had bought it from a dredger. In 1904, he had had enough. He declared: “I feel that it is exerting a baleful influence over my newborn daughter”, and had it shipped to his bankers with instructions that it be locked away till after his death.
Seven years ago, John Whittaker, former head of micropalaeontology at the Natural History Museum, took the amethyst to a first annual symposium of the Heron-Allen Society. On the way home, “the sky turned black and we were overtaken by the most horrific thunderstorm I’ve ever experienced,” he said. It was so bad “we considered abandoning the car and my wife was shouting, ‘Why did you bring that damned thing?”
Whittaker was taken violently ill with a stomach bug the night before the second symposium and he missed the third when he developed a kidney stone. The fourth symposium in 2004 was held at the museum. “We were all a bit apprehensive on the eve of the meeting,” he said.