Travels in India, Vol II – Jean Baptiste Tavernier


A P P E N D I X  I: . The Great Moguls Diamond and the true History of the Koh-i-Nür.

ALTHOUGH the writers on this subject are very numerous, still it is believed that almost everyone of them who has contributed to its elucidation has been consulted in the preparation of this account ; and it is certain that many, whose writings have also been consulted, are chiefly noteworthy for the amount of confusion which they have unfortunately introduced into it.

The principal authorities are enumerated in the note below. (1) It would only prove puzzling to the reader and cloud the main issue were any considerable space devoted to refuting the errors and correcting the misquotations regarding it, which are so common in works on precious stones.

(1) It will be convenient to classify the principal authorities according to the theories which they have respectively adopted, as follows : First, those who maintain the identity of the Koh-i-Nür with Bäbur’s Diamond : Erskine, Life of Babur, 1918, ii, pp. 191-2 ; Rev. C. W. King, Natural History of Precious Stones, Bohn s ed., 1870, p. 70 ; E. W. Streeter, The Great Diamonds of the World, p. 116.

Second, those who maintain the identity of the Koh-i-Nür with the Great Mogul’s Diamond, and who either treat Bäbur’s Diamond as distinct or make no special reference to it : James Forbes, Oriental Memoirs, 1834, vol. ii, p. 175 ; Major-General Sleeman, Rambles and Recollections, 1918, pp. 288 ff. ; James Tennant, Lecture on Gems and Precious Stones, 1852, p. 84 ; V. Ball, Journ. As. Soc. of Bengal, 1880, vol. l„pt. ii, p. 31, and Economic Geology of India, 1881, p. 19.

Third, those who maintain the identity of the Koh-i-Nür with both Bäbur’s and the Great Mogul’s Diamonds : Official Descriptive Catalogue of the Great Exhibition of 1851, pt. iii, p. 695; Kluge, Handbuch der Edelsteinkunde, Leipzig, 1860, p. 240; Professor Ν. S. Maskelyne, Roy. Inst, of Great Britain, March 1860, and Edin. Rev., 1866, pp. 247-8 ; Gen. Cunningham, Arch. Reports, vol. ii, p. 390; Professor Nicol, Encylopœdia Britannica, 9th ed.,Art., ‘Diamond’; Dr. H. A. Miers, quoting Ball and N. S. Maskelyne, Nature, 1891, p. 44;  p. 555, in Ency. Brit., 11th ed.  It would not be difficult to add to the above a score of names of writers who have supported one or other of these theories.

It seems to be a better course to endeavour to secure close attention to the facts of the case supported by well-verified references, so that the reader may be in a position to pronounce for himself a verdict on definite evidence alone, and accept or reject the conclusions which are here suggested.

In order, so to speak, to clear the way for the discussion, it will be necessary, as a preliminary, to give short accounts of all the large diamonds with which authors have sought to identify the Koh-i-Nür. Firstly, there is the diamond of Sultan Bâbur, which his son Humäyün received in the year A.D. 1526 from the family of Râjâ Bikramajit, when he took possession of Agra. It had already then a recorded history, having been acquired from the Râjâ of Mälwä by Alâ-ud-dïn in the year 1304. (1)  Regarding its traditional history, which extends 5,000 years farther back, nothing need be said here ; though it has afforded sundry imaginative writers a subject for highly characteristic paragraphs.

We have no record of its having been at any time a cut stone. According to Sultan Bâbur the diamond was equal in value to one day’s food of all the people in the world. Its estimated weight was about 8 mishkâls, and as he gives a value of 40 ratis to the mishkäl—it weighed, in other words, about 320 ratis. Ferishta (2) states that Bâbur accepted the diamond in lieu of any other ransom, for the private property of individuals, and that it weighed 8 mishkâls or 224 ratis.

Hence 1 mishkäl = 28 ratis, from which we may deduce that the ratis Ferishta referred to were to those of Bâbur, of which 40 went to the mishkâl, as 28 : 40 ; and this, on the supposition that the smaller rati was equal to 1-842 troy gr., gives a value of 2-63 troy gr. for the larger, which closely approximates to the value of the pearl rati of Tavernier.

If on the other hand we deduce the smaller from the larger (at 2·66 gr.’for the pearl rati) we obtain for it a value of 1-86. So far as I am aware, this explanation of Ferishta’s figures (3) has not been published before. The value of the mishkâl in Bäbur’s time, as being a more tangible weight than the variable rati, has been investigated by Prof. Maskelyne, (4)  and he concludes that it was equal to about 74 gr. troy, and that if taken at 73-69 gr. troy, and multiplied by 8, it would yield a weight exactly corresponding to that of the Koh-i-nür when brought to England, namely 186-06 carats.

(1) See Erskine’s Memoirs of Sultan Bâbur, 1918, ii, p. 191 ; History
of India, i. 438.
(2) History of the Rise of the Mahomedan Power in India, &c, trans, by J. Briggs, London, 1829, Calcutta, 1909, ii. 46.
(3) See also Dow, History of Hindustan, 1812, ii. 105.
(4) Lecture at the Royal Institution, March 1860.

Accepting the second estimate for the value of the mishkäl, that of Bäbur’s rati would be 1-842 gr. troy, and the value of his diamond in  carats might be expressed by the following equation.

In such a calculation it is well to bear in mind that a very slight variation in the rati, as a unit, would, when multiplied, produce a  considerable difference in the result. Thus, if 1.86 were put instead of 1.842, the resultant would be enhanced above the desired figure, namely the weight of the Koh-i-Nür.

Here I must leave Bäbur’s diamond for the present, without expressing any more decided opinion as to the absolute accuracy of the data which make its weight appear to be actually identical with that of the Koh-i-Nür, being, however, as will be seen in the sequel, quite content not to dispute their general correctness, though my deduction there from does not accord with Professor Maskelyne’s.

In the year 1563 Garcia da Orta, in his famous work on the Simples and Drugs of India, (1) mentioned four large diamonds, one of which he was told had been seen at Bisnaguer, i. e. Vijayanagar, and was the size of a small hen’s egg. The others weighed respectively—

None of these three last can be identified with the Great Mogul’s diamond, because, even supposing it had been already discovered at so early a date as 1563, it must then, as will be seen hereafter, have been uncut, and had a weight of 787| carats, or more than double the weight of the largest of them ; but it might have been the one spoken of as being of the size of a small hen’s egg, as that was probably its form in its early condition when acquired by Mir .lumia.

As to whether any of the stones mentioned by Garcia could have been the same as Bäbur’s diamond, it is quite useless to speculate ; but, as none of them are said to have belonged to the Mogul, it seems to be most improbable. In the year 1609, De Boot, in his work on gems, &c, referred to all these diamonds mentioned by Garcia, but when doing so, was guilty of three serious blunders, which were, however, detected by his editor, Adrian Toll ; they have misled many subsequent authors, who have apparently overlooked the editorial comments, including Professor Maskelyne (Nature, x. 91).

(1) Colloquios dos simples e drogas e cousas medicinaes da India, p. 159 ; Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India, trans. Sir C. Markham, London, 1913, p. 347.
(2) He says the mangelin =5 gr., the carat 4 gr., and the rati 3 gr. (of  wheat). Sir C. Markham gives the weights as 140, 120, 250 carats.