A History of the Regent Diamond

About the events connected with the discovery of the Regent diamond and its negative effects on those who posessed it.

The history of that remarkable diamond, the REGENT, is so curious that a few particulars concerning its discovery, and the events connected with it, will be interesting. It was found at Parteal, forty-five leagues south of Golconda, by (if we may credit the story) a slave, who concealed it in a gash made for its reception in the calf of his leg, until he had an opportunity of escaping to Madras. There the poor wretch fell in with an English skipper, who, by promising to find him a purchaser for the stone, and to halve the profits, lured him on board, and disposed of his claims by throwing him into the sea. The captain then offered it to a dealer named Jamchund, obtaining a thousands pounds, which he speedily ran through, and then hanged himself. Whatever doubts there may be about this part of the story, we find in a letter to the editor of the European Magazine (October, 1791) from the subsequent owner of the diamond, Governor Pitt, the particulars of his obtaining possession of it. "About two or three years after my arrival at Madras (which was in July, 1698), I heard there were large diamonds in the country to be sold, which I encouraged to be brought down, promising to be their chapman, if they would be reasonable therein; upon which Jamchund, one of the most eminent diamond merchants in these parts, came down about December, 1701, and brought with him a large rough stone, and some small ones which myself and others bought; but he asking a very extravagant price for the great one, I did not think of meddling with it, when he left it with me for some days, and then came and took it away again, and did so several times, not insisting upon less than two hundred thousand pagadoes, and as I best remember, I did not bid him above thirty thousand, and had little thoughts of buying it for that. I considered there were many and great risks to be run, not only in cutting it, but, also, whether it would prove foul or clean, or the water good; besides, I thought it too great an amount to be adventured home on one bottom. But Jamchund resolved to return speedily to his own country, so, as I best remember, it was in February following, he came again to me (with Vincaty Chittee, who was always with him when I discoursed with him about it), and pressed me to know whether I resolved to buy it, when he came down to one hundred thousand pagadoes, and something under before we parted; when we agreed upon a day to meet, and make a final end thereof one way or other, which, I believe, was the latter end of the aforesaid month, or the beginning of March; when we accordingly met in the consultation room, where, after a great deal of talk, I brought him down to fifty-five thousand pagadoes, and advanced to fortyfive thousand, resolving to give no more, and he, likewise, resolving not to abate, so delivered him up the stone, and we took a friendly leave of one another. Mr. Benyon was then writing in my closet, with whom I discoured upon what had passed, and told him now I was clear of it, when an hour afterward my servant brought me word that Jamchund and Vincaty Chittee were at the door, who, being called in, they used a great many expressions in favour of the stone.....I closed with him for the sum of forty-eight thousand pagadoes (10,400 pound)." This letter, duly signed and attested at Bergen, is dated July 19th, 1710.

The possession of this magnificent jewel does not seem to have created much happiness in its possessor; the fear of losing it seems to have absorbed the mind of Governor Pitt. Uffenbach, a German traveller, who visited England in 1712, says that he made many fruitless efforts to get a sight of the diamond, the fame of which had spread all over Europe. But there was no obtaining an interview with the far from enviable possessor, so fearful was he of robbery (and not without cause in those days), that he never made known beforehand the day of his coming to town, nor slept twice consecutively in the same house.

It appears that the acquisition of this diamond occasioned many reflections injurious to the reputation of Governor Pitt, and Pope has been thought to allude to this in the lines--

"Asleep and naked as an Indian lay,

An honest factor stole a gem away:

He pledg'd it to the knight; the knight had wit,

So kept the diamond, and the rougue was bit."

These reports, however, never obtained much credit, though they were loud enough to reach the ears of the person against whom they were directed, who vindicated himself in the letter which I have already quoted. In the Daily Post (Nov. 3rd, 1743) is also a vindication of Mr. Pitt.

About the year 1717, negotiations were set on foot to effect the sale of this diamond to the Duke of Orleans, Regent of France; and in this transaction the unscrupulous Law, the Scottish financialist, then in high favour with the French court, figures prominently. The Duke De Saint Simon, in his lively "Memoirs," gives an account of the affair. It seems that a model of the diamond was made in England, and placed in the hands of Law, who proposed to the regent that he should purchase the jewel for the king. The price dismayed the regent, who refused to buy. Law took the model to Saint Simon, who agreed with him that France ought to possess a jewel unique of its kind in the world: and, together, they persuaded the Duke of Orleans to make the purchase for one hundred and thirty thousand pounds, five thousand of which were expended in the negotiation, of which Law, no doubt, had his full share. Money, however, was fearfully scarce in France, and the interest of the purchase was paid until the principal could be settled, jewels to the full amount being given as security.

Anquetil, in his "Memoirs of the Court of France," says that the diamond weighed more than five hundred grains, was of the size of a large plum, perfectly white, without spot, and of an admirable water.

In the list of the crown jewels of France, published by order of the National Assembly in 1791, the "Regent" is thus described:- "Un superbe diamant brilliant blanc, forme carree, les coins arrondis, ayant une petite glace dans le filetis, et une autre a un coin dans le dessous: pesant 136 14/16 karats, estime douze millions livres."

It was considered the largest diamond in Europe, weighing in the rough 410 carats. To cut it into a perfect brilliant occupied two years.

The strange vicissitudes to which the "Regent" was exposed during the French Revolution, I have already related in the chapter on "Robberies."

At the Exposition Universelle at Paris, the exhibition of the "Regent" diamond, in common with other valuable jewels of the French regalia, proved to be fully worthy of the praises bestowed on its marvellous beauty and purity.


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