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Koh-i-Noor: Empire, Diamonds, and the Performance of British Material Culture

  • Danielle C. Kinsey



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1 Balfour, Ian, Famous Diamonds (London, 2000), 172.

2 Pointon, Marcia, “Intriguing Jewellery: Royal Bodies and Luxurious Consumption,” Textual Practice 11, no. 3 (Winter 1997): 500.

3 Nechtman, Tillman W., “Nabobinas: Luxury, Gender, and the Sexual Politics of British Imperialism in India in the Late Eighteenth Century,” Journal of Women's History 18, no. 4 (Winter 2006): 830.

4 “The Front Row of the Shilling Gallery,” Punch, 5 July 1851, 11.

5 Brown, Bill, “Thing Theory,” in Things, ed. Brown, Bill (Chicago, 2004), 116, and A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (Chicago, 2003); Batchelor, Jennie and Kaplan, Cora, eds., Women and Material Culture, 1660–1830 (New York, 2007), 18.

6 Freedgood, Elaine, The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel (Chicago, 2006), 1229.

7 Batchelor and Kaplan, Women and Material Culture; Mackie, Erin, Market à la Mode: Fashion, Commodity, and Gender in the “Tatler” and the “Spectator” (Baltimore, 1997).

8 Balfour, Famous Diamonds, 167; Metcalf, Barbara and Metcalf, Thomas, A Concise History of India (Cambridge, 2002), 9397.

9 See India Office Records (IOR), 1600–1947, IOR/L/PS/11/296/5115, Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections (APAC), British Library (BL). This file was produced by the East India Company as a result of its own inquest into how the Koh-i-Noor was appropriated by the crown in the late 1850s. It contains copies of earlier memorandums sent out to the company's Court of Directors by the governor-general, correspondence he had with underlings, as well as the research about the stone that was conducted on his behalf.

10 For the Deccan booty settlement of 1828, see IOR, IOR/L/AG/17/2/4, APAC, BL.

11 “Document 2: Governor General's Despatch to Secret Committee, No. 20 of 7th April, 1849,” in The History of the Koh-i-Noor, Darya-i-Noor and Taimur's Ruby, comp. Bhai Nahar Singh and Kirpala Singha (New Delhi, 1985), 4–25.

12 Inquiry into the confiscation of the Koh-i-Noor, 26 August 1854, IOR, IOR/L/PS/11/296/5115, APAC, BL.

13 Alexander, Michael and Anand, Sushila, Queen Victoria's Maharajah: Duleep Singh, 1838–1893 (London, 2001), 4649. Singh's and Victoria's relationship was profoundly complex and went through many stages of estrangement and reconciliation as the maharajah struggled to come to terms with himself and his role in imperial Britain and India. Unfortunately, an in-depth analysis of their relationship and its context falls outside the scope of this article. For more on the Winterhalter portrait, see Axel, Brian Keith, The Nation's Tortured Body: Violence, Representation, and the Formation of a Sikh “Diaspora” (Durham, NC, 2001), 4958.

14 Macaulay, Thomas Babington, “Minute on Education in India,” in Politics and Empire in Victorian Britain: A Reader, ed. Burton, Antoinette(New York, 2001), 20.

15 “The Claims of an Indian Prince,” The Times, 31 August 1882, 7.

16 Alexander and Anand, Queen Victoria's Maharajah, 94, 136, 145, 178, 278–79.

17 “Document 42 (Private Letters): Government House, 26 August 1854,” in History of the Koh-i-Noor, 78.

18 “Document 1: Private Letters, Camp Ferozepore, 30 March 1849,” in ibid., 3.

19 “Document 8: Chapter VI: Lady Login's Recollections (1820–1904), Court Life and Camp Life,” in ibid., 31.

20 “Document 6: The Life of the Marquis of Dalhousie, [by] Lee-Warner, Vol. I,” in ibid., 158.

21 “Document 2,” in ibid., 25.

22 Mersmann, Arndt, “‘Diamonds Are Forever’—Appropriations of the Koh-i-Noor: An Object Biography,” Journal for the Study of British Cultures 8, no. 2 (2001): 175–91.

23 Arab Roots of Gemology: Ahmad ibn Yusuf Al Tifaschi's “Best Thoughts on the Best of Stones,” trans. (with commentary by) Samar Najm Abul Huda (London, 1998), 270.

24 David Brewster, “The Diamond—Its History, Properties, and Origin,” North British Review 18 (November 1852): 186–234.

25 Lord Dalhousie, governor-general of India, to Queen Victoria, Simla, 15 May 1850, in The Letters of Queen Victoria, 3 vols., ed. A. C. Benson et al. (London, 1907), 2:286–87.

26 When many other gemstones from the Lahore treasury were shown to the queen by members of the East India Company in 1851, she recorded in her diary how impressed she was with Taimur's Ruby: “[It] is the largest in the world, therefore even more remarkable than the Koh-i-noor! I am very happy that the British Crown will possess these jewels, for I shall certainly make them Crown Jewels” (Queen Victoria, quoted in Charles R. Fay, Palace of Industry, 1851: A Study of the Great Exhibition and Its Fruits [Cambridge, 1951], 71).

27 A. M. B., , The Story of Garrards: Goldsmiths and Jewellers to Six Sovereigns in Three Centuries, 1721–1911 (London, 1912), 9499; George Fox, “An Account of the Firm of Rundell, Bridge and Company, the Crown Jewellers and Goldsmiths on Ludgate Hill” (unpublished manuscript), 1843–46, pressmark 276.E.3, General Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum Archives, National Art Library, 8.

28 “East India House,” The Times, 28 September 1854, 5.

29 Nevil Story-Maskelyne, “On the Koh-i-Noor Diamond” (unpublished manuscript), DF5001/415, Story-Maskelyne Papers, Natural History Museum Archives (NHMA), 15.

30 “Document 44: Theophilus Metcalfe, Lt. Governor of NW Provs, Delhi, to Sir Henry Elliot, Secretary to the Government of India, 7th January 1850,” in History of the Koh-i-Noor, 80–81.

31 ibid., 81–82.

32 Metcalf, Thomas, Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge, 1995), 8092.

33 “Report on the Past of the Koh-i-Noor,” IOR, IOR/L/PS/11/209/5115, APAC, BL.

34 “Document 46: Major MacGregor, Deputy Commissioner, Lahore, to B. Melvill, Secretary to the Board of Administration for the Affairs of the Punjab, 20 April 1850,” in History of the Koh-i-Noor, 84–90; “The Koh-i-Noor,” Era (London), 20 October 1839, 41.

35 “Document 46,” in History of the Koh-i-Noor, 84–90; “Runjeet Singh,” The Times, 12 November 1838, 3; Story-Maskelyne, “On the Koh-i-Noor Diamond,” 7, 21–39.

36 Tavernier, Jean-Baptiste, app. 1 in Travels in India, trans. V. Ball (London, 1889), 397.

37 Story-Maskelyne, “On the Koh-i-Noor Diamond,” 39–97; Balfour, Famous Diamonds, 152–67.

38 “The Koh-i-Noor Diamond,” Illustrated London News, 26 May 1849, 332. And see “The Koh-i-Noor,” Illustrated London News, 23 December 1848, 397.

39 “The Koh-i-Noor,” Illustrated London News, 23 December 1848, 397; “The Koh-i-Noor Diamond,” Illustrated London News, 26 May 1849, 332. For The Times's coverage, see “India and China,” 4 May 1850; “Her Majesty's Steam Sloop,” 1 July 1850, 4; “Grand Banquet to Lieutenant-General Sir William Gomm, K.C.B.,” 12 August 1850, 5; “The Opening of the Great Exhibition,” 2 May 1851, 5; “The Great Exhibition,” 3 May 1851, 5; “The Cutting of the Koh-i-Noor,” 19 July 1852, 8; “The Great Indian Diamond,” 27 July 1852, 7; and “The Re-cutting of the Koh-i-Noor,” 28 August 1852, 5. See also “The Koh-i-Noor, a Real ‘Mountain of Light!’” Punch, 19 April 1851, 165; and Wilkie Collins, preface to The Moonstone (1868; London, 2001), xxiii.

40 “Document 6,” in History of the Koh-i-Noor, 28.

41 “The Koh-i-Noor,” Illustrated London News, 23 December 1848, 397. The Illustrated London News was particularly involved in covering the Anglo-Sikh war and published one of the first pictures of the Koh-i-Noor available to metropolitan audiences; for this picture, an engraving, see “The Koh-i-Noor Diamond,” 26 May 1849, 332. See also the Illustrated London News, “The War in the Punjab,” 27 January 1849, 52, 56–57; “India—Capture of Moultan,” and “The War in India,” 24 February 1849, 117–18; “The War in the Punjaub,” 10 March 1849, 145–46; “The War in India,” 7 April 1849, 161–66, 230; and “The Victories in the Punjaub,” 28 April 1849, 265–66.

42 “Precious Stones and Antique Gems,” The Times, 14 October 1865, 6; and see King, Charles W., The Natural History, Ancient and Modern, of Precious Stones and Gems, and of the Precious Metals (London, 1865); and Ball, Valentine, The Diamonds, Coal and Gold of India (London, 1881), 1115.

43 Collins, The Moonstone, xxiii; Mersmann, “Diamonds Are Forever,” 186.

44 Free, Melissa, “Dirty Linen: Legacies of Empire in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 48, no. 4 (Winter 2006): 340–71.

45 Sen, Nar Bir, The Glorious History of Koh-i-Noor (New Delhi, 1970), 114; and see Balfour, Famous Diamonds, 168–69.

46 Inquiry into the confiscation of the Koh-i-Noor, 26 August 1854, IOR, IOR/L/PS/11/296/5115, APAC, BL.

47 Tallis, John, Tallis's History and Description of the Crystal Palace and the Exhibition of the World's Industry in 1851, 3 vols. (London, 1852), 2:240; “The Great Exhibition,” Daily News (London), 2 May 1851, 5; “Great Exhibition,” Observer (London), 18 May 1851, 4.

48 “Document 8,” in History of the Koh-i-Noor, 30–38.

49 Fay, Palace of Industry, 81.

50 “The Opening of the Great Exhibition,” 4–5.

51 “The Great Exhibition,” Examiner (London), 3 May 1851, 280.

52 “The Opening of the Great Exhibition,” 5.

53 Richards, Thomas, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851–1914 (Stanford, CA, 1990), 5157.

54 Bourdieu, Pierre, The Logic of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Stanford, CA, 1990), 112–27.

55 “Lord Ellenborough Is a Napier Togatus,” The Times, 27 May 1851, 5.

56 Mersmann, “Diamonds Are Forever,” 180–83.

57 “Her Majesty's Intention,” The Times, 17 April 1851, 5; “False Alarms,” Examiner, 3 May 1851, 275; Yvonne French, The Great Exhibition: 1851 (London, 1950), 229; “Her Majesty—as She Appeared on the First of May, Surrounded by ‘Horrible Conspirators and Assassins,’” Punch, 19 May 1851, 193, 240; “The Alarmists Dream,” Punch, 14 June 1851, 245.

58 “Her Majesty's Intention,” 5.

59 “Her Majesty—as She Appeared on the First of May, Surrounded by ‘Horrible Conspirators and Assassins,’” 193.

60 “The Building and the Ceremony,” Daily News, 2 May 1851, 5.

61 “The Great Exhibition,” Spectator, 10 May 1851, 446. For more on the cage, see “The Great Exhibition,” Observer, 5 May 1851, 2; “The Great Exhibition,” Daily News, 5; and “The Great Exhibition,” John Bull, 10 May 1851, 298.

62 French, Great Exhibition, 229.

63 Tallis, Tallis's History of the Crystal Palace, 2:150.

64 “The Great Exhibition,” Examiner, 14 June 1851, 378; “The Great Exhibition,” Observer, 18 May 1851, 4.

65 “The Great Exhibition,” Examiner, 5 July 1851, 427.

66 “The Front Row of the Shilling Gallery,” 10.

67 “What I Remarked at the Exhibition,” Punch, 10 May 1851, 189.

68 “The Front Row of the Shilling Gallery,” 10.

69 Mackie, Market à la Mode, 111, and see 104–43.

70 “Diamond Dialogues,” Punch, 17 June 1851, 244.

71 “Ballad for Old-Fashioned Farmers: On the Great Exhibition,” Punch, 17 May 1851, 212.

72 “The Great Exhibition,” Daily News, 5.

73 “A Gentleman from the Country Mistakes the Crystal sent by the Duke of Devonshire for the Koh-i-Noor Diamond,” Punch, 17 May 1851, 200.

74 “The Black Diamond—The Real Mountain of Light!!” Punch, 14 June 1851, 252; Tallis, Tallis's History of the Crystal Palace, 2:158, 240.

75 “The Front Row of the Shilling Gallery,” 10.

76 “Coal and Koh-i-Noor,” Punch, 15 November 1851, 198.

77 For a discussion of the centrality of women, women's bodies, and womanhood in debates about the “traditional” versus the “modern” in colonial India, see Lata Mani, Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India (Berkeley, 1998).

78 “The Front Row of the Shilling Gallery,” 11.

79 “Diamond Dialogues,” 244.

80 “Jewels for Sale,” MSS Eur E293/272, APAC, BL.

81 Bernstein, Harry, The Brazilian Diamond in Contracts, Contraband and Capital (London, 1986); Eakin, Marshall C., British Enterprise in Brazil: The St. John D’el Rey Mining Company and the Morro Velho Gold Mine, 1830–1960 (Durham, NC, 1989); Gardner, George, Travels in the Interior of Brazil, Principally through the Northern Provinces, and the Gold and Diamond Districts, during the Years 1836–1841 (London, 1846; repr., New York, 1970); Lenzen, Godehard, The History of Diamond Production and the Diamond Trade, trans. F. Bradley (New York, 1970); Mawe, John, Travels in the Interior of Brazil, Particularly in the Gold and Diamond Districts (London, 1812); Sherwood, Marika, “Britain, the Slave Trade and Slavery, 1808–1843,” Race & Class 46, no. 2 (October 2004): 5477.

82 Tallis, Tallis's History of the Crystal Palace, 2:150.

83 “The Great Exhibition,” Observer, 18 May 1851, 4.

84 Batchelor and Kaplan, Women and Material Culture, 2–7.

85 Williams, Richard, The Contentious Crown: Public Discussion of the British Monarchy in the Reign of Queen Victoria (Brookfield, VT, 1997).

86 Mackie, Market à la Mode, 47.

87 Marcia Pointon, “Women and Their Jewels,” in Batchelor and Kaplan, Women and Material Culture, 12.

88 Ellen Kennedy Johnson, “‘The Taste for Bringing the Outside In’: Nationalism, Gender and Landscape Wallpaper (1700–1825),” in Batechelor and Kaplan, Women and Material Culture, 124–27.

89 See Balfour, Famous Diamonds, 228–30, 124–35; and Ronald, Susan, The Sancy Blood Diamond (Hoboken, NJ, 2005), 206–18. Interestingly, the Orlov Diamond was not recut in this way.

90 Dieulafait, Louis, Diamonds and Precious Stones, trans. Fanchon Sanford (New York, 1874), 95, 98. Dieulafait discusses the cutting of the Star of the South from Brazil, but that stone was cut from its rough state.

91 “Koh-i-Noor Diamond,” Sir David Brewster to Prince Albert, 29 December 1851, RA VIC/ADDT/54, Royal Archives. Used with permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

92 “Historical notes on the Koh-i-Noor Diamond,” DF 5001/1–11, Story-Maskelyne Papers, NHMA.

93 Pointon, “Women and Their Jewels,” 24.

94 “The Cutting of the Koh-i-Noor,” 8.

95 Dieulafait, Diamonds and Precious Stones, 98.

96 “The Cutting of the Koh-i-Noor,” 8.

97 Clark, Grahame, Symbols of Excellence: Precious Materials as Expressions of Status (Cambridge, 1986), 86.

98 “The Poor Old Koh-i-Noor Again!” Punch, 7 August 1852, 54.

99 “The Koh-i-Noor,” The Times, 11 September 1852, 5; and see “The Cutting of the Koh-i-Noor,” 8; “The Great Indian Diamond,” 7; and “The Re-cutting of the Koh-i-Noor,” 5.

100 “The Poor Old Koh-i-Noor Again!” 54.

101 Charles W. King, quoted in “Precious Stones and Antique Gems,” 6.

102 “To Asscler, 4 December 1909,” DF10/50, Pk1, Story-Maskelyne Papers, NHMA.

103 Hall, Catherine, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830–1867 (Chicago, 2002), 208–9, 370–71; Malchow, Howard L., Gothic Images of Race in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Stanford, CA, 1996), 4176.

104 Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj, 5.

105 Pointon, “Intriguing Jewellery.”

106 See Hall, Civilising Subjects; and Levine, Philippa, Prostitution, Race, and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (New York, 2003).

107 Holmes, Martin Rivington and Sitwell, H. D. W., The English Regalia: Their History, Custody, and Display (London, 1972), 41.


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