“Whoever shall then open it, shall first read out this warning, and then do as he pleases with the jewel. My advice to him or her is to cast it into the sea.” When more than 30 years ago curator Peter Tandy discovered the Delhi Purple Sapphire in the mineral cabinets of the Natural History Museum in London, this warning was written in a note by Edward Heron-Allen. The gem was also surrounded by protective charms and sealed in seven boxes.That’s the beginning of a Disney movie, right? Apparently not…The Delhi Purple Sapphire is actually not a sapphire, but an amethyst, a violet variety of quartz. Amethysts were used as charms by the ancient Greeks to prevent drunkenness. Medieval European soldiers used amethyst amulets as protection in battle as they believed the gem heals people and keeps them cool-headed. But this one has a different story. It is believed it was looted from the Temple of Indra in Cawnpore during the bloody Indian Mutiny of 1857. The Temple honored Indra, the Hindu king of gods, ruler of the heavens, god of thunder, rain and a great warrior god. The jewel was brought into England by Colonel W. Ferris, a Bengal Cavalryman. The Colonel soon lost all his money and fell ill and so did his son when he inherited it. The next owner was a family friend who committed suicide. In 1890 it was bought by writer, scientist and Persian scholar Edward Heron-Allen. Immediately after receiving it he claimed to have started having bad luck. So when friends asked for it, he happily gave it away. The first friend “was thereupon overwhelmed by every possible disaster” and the other, a singer, lost her voice: “her voice was dead and gone and she has never sung since.” Heron-Allen then threw the amethyst into Regent’s Canal. But three months later it found its way back, returned by a dealer who had bought it from a dredger. The Delhi Purple Sapphire is “accursed and is stained with the blood, and the dishonor of everyone who has ever owned it” he wrote. In 1904 after the birth of his first daughter he declared: “I feel that it is exerting a baleful influence over my newborn daughter”. So he shipped it, locked in a box, to his bankers with set instructions for it to be locked away until after his death. Later he donated it to the Natural History Museum under the condition that the box was not to be opened until at least 3 years after his death. But the story of the curse does not stop here. John Whittaker, former head of micro-paleontology at the Natural History Museum was tasked to take the amethyst to the first annual symposium of the Heron-Allen Society. On the way there he was caught into a severe thunderstorm. At the second symposium he fell violently ill with a stomach bug. He missed the third one, he was sick again: he had a kidney stone.
The Delhi Purple sapphire is now permanently on display as part of the Natural History Museum’s Vault Collection of precious gemstones.