Last updated on April 10, 2023
The mysterious story of the Delhi Purple Sapphire was unknown until fairly recently when a young curator at London’s Natural History Museum found a letter stored with the gemstone. The gem set in a silver ring was not that remarkable until the strange letter began to unravel the dark tale of the stone.
The Curse of the Delhi Purple Sapphire
The history of the Delhi Purple Sapphire traces back to 19th century India when the country was thrown into turmoil because of the uprising against the British. It brought chaos and destruction until the mutiny was eventually suppressed. During this period, many temples and palaces were looted. One of them was the temple of Indra at Cawnpore (Kanpur), the Hindu god of war and weather.
In 1855, a Bengal cavalryman Colonel W. Ferris took what he thought to be a purple sapphire from the temple and returned home to his family. The mistaken initial identity of the stone is the reason the infamous amethyst is widely known as Delhi Purple Sapphire.
As soon as Colonel W. Ferris returned to England, he suffered many financial and health misfortunes, which led his family to ruin. At first, he blamed himself for the failures, but when every member of the family suffered illnesses, his thoughts turned to the purple gemstone. After his death, the gem came to the possession of his son, who suffered numerous misfortunes.
The Delhi Purple Sapphire and Edward Heron-Allen
In 1890, the gem came into the possession of one of the most respected scholars of the time Edward Heron-Allen. Heron-Allen was a polymath, writer and scientist, and certainly not a man who would believe in mystery. However, not long after taking the gem from Ferris’ son, the rational scientist began attributing a series of misfortunes to the curse of the stone. Heron-Allen was sure that the Delhi Purple Sapphire was accursed and stained with the blood and the dishonour of everyone who owned it.
To neutralize the curse, Heron-Allen had the gem set in a silver ring in the form of a snake, decorated with zodiacal plaques and two hinged pendants, one of which features two scarabs of amethyst and a T in an engraved frame made of silver. The gemstone seemed to have “calmed down” for a while. The only sign of the curse was the ghost of a Hindu Yogi that hunted Heron-Allen, desperately searching for the gem.
In 1902, the scientist even agreed to lend the amethyst to a friend who was almost immediately stuck with misfortunes. Hopeless Heron-Allen decided to get rid of the stone and its curse and threw the jewel into Regent’s Canal. However, three months later, the ring was dredged from the canal and taken to a local jeweller, who immediately recognized the stone and returned it to its owner.
After a while, a friend asked Heron-Allen to borrow the jewel, and again he lent out the gem. The recipient was a singer who lost her voice after wearing the cursed gemstone. Fearing that the cursed stone would influence his newborn daughter, the scientist packed the Dehli Purple Sapphire in seven boxes filled with good luck charms and deposited it in a bank safe with a warning letter, instructing anyone handling the box not to open it until 33 years after his death.
The Delhi Purple Sapphire’s New Home
In January 1944, less than 12 months after Heron-Allen’s death, his daughter donated the locked box with the cursed amethyst and the letter to the Natural History Museum in London. It stayed untouched until 1972 when a curious young curator uncovered the box and found the gemstone and a strange letter enclosed.
The letter written by Edward Heron-Allen (the original spelling and punctuation have been retained) told the sinister story behind the gem and warned the future possessor about possible misfortunes.
“To – Whomsoever shall be the future possessor of this Amethyst. These lines are addressed in warning before he, or she, shall assume the responsibility of owning it.
This stone is trebly accursed and is stained with the blood, and the dishonour of everyone who has ever owned it. It was looted from the treasure of the Temple of the God Indra at Cawnpore during the Indian Mutiny in 1855 and brought to this country by Col. W. Ferris of the Bengal Cavalry. From the day he possessed it he was unfortunate, and lost both health and money. His son who had it after his death, suffered the most persistent ill-fortune till I accepted the stone from him in 1890. He had given it once to a friend, but the friend shortly afterwards committed suicide and left it back to him by will.
From the moment I had it, misfortunes attacked me until I had it bound round with a double-headed snake that had been a finger ring of Heydon the Astrologer hooked up with Zodiacal plaques and neutralized between Heydon’s magic Tau and two amethyst scarabaei of Queen Hatasu’s period, brought from Der el-Bahari (Thebes). It remained thus quietly until 1902, though not only I, but my wife, Professor Ross, W.H.Rider, and Mrs Hadden, frequently saw in my library the Hindu Yoga, who haunts the stone trying to get it back. He sits on his heels in a corner of the room, digging in the floor with his hands, as if searching for it.
In 1902, under protest I gave it to a friend, who was thereupon overwhelmed with every possible disaster. On my return from Egypt in 1903 I found she had returned it to me and after another great misfortune had fallen on me I threw it into the Regent’s Canal. Three months afterwards it was bought back to me by a Wardour St. dealer who had bought it from a dredger. Then I gave it to a friend who was a singer, at her earnest wish. The next time she tried to sing, her voice was dead and she has never sung since.
I feel that it is exerting a baleful influence over my new born daughter so I am now packing it in seven boxes and depositing it at my bankers, with directions that it is not to see the light again until I have been dead thirty three years. Whoever shall open it, shall first read this warning, and then do so as he pleases with the jewel. My advice to him or her is to cast it into the sea. I am forbidden by the Rosicrucian Oath to do this, or I would have done it long ago.”
(Signed) Edward Heron-Allen.
Nowadays, the Purple Dehli Sapphire, which is a faceted oval amethyst measuring 3.50 x 2.50 cm, resides at the Natural History Museum and is often on public display. Although the museum scientists believe that Heron-Allen manufactured much of the story, rumour still abounds that the gem has an evil influence on those close to it, and the curse will only be over when it is returned to the place it truly belongs.
Featured image: Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London. A derivative work by Diamond Buzz.