The Hastings Diamond

The Hastings Diamond is a large Golconda diamond, weighing 101 carats. It was named after the British Governor general of India, Warren Hastings. It was given to King George III in 1785, the gift of Nizam Ali Khan, the ruler of Hyderabad.

Hastings was at the time on trial in London for what were rather charmingly called “Irregularities” when in power. He was eager to secure the good favour of the King; so, he agreed to act as courier of this magnificent diamond, and did nothing to refute the general idea that the diamond was his personal gift to the King, rather than the Nizam’s.

Although acquitted, (the charge sheet alone took two days to read!) the story of the gifting of the diamond became public, and it was construed in the press that Hastings had tried to buy a favourable verdict. One observer of the trial, a man called Horace Wimpole, commented that “Innocence does not pave his way with diamonds”, a verdict that resonated through the press. A multitude of caricatures followed, showing the King as “The Great Stone Eater”, and ridiculing the King for his greed.

The location of the Hastings Diamond is unknown, though some jewellery historians speculate that the round brilliant cut diamond in the Westminster Tiara is the Hastings Diamond. Given that the centre diamond is less than 30 carats, it seems unlikely to be the case.

The episode gave rise to a famous Ballad, ridiculing the King:

I’ll sing you a song of a diamond so fine,
That eon in the Crown of our Monarch will shine;
Of its size and its value the whole country rings,
By Hastings bestowed on the best of all kings.
Derry down…

From India this jewel was lately brought o’er,
Though sunk in the sea, it was found on the shore,
And just in the nick to St. James’s it got,
Conveyed in a bag by the brave Major Scott,
Derry down…

Lord Sidney stepped forth when the tidings were known,
It’s his office to carry such news to the throne,
Though quite out of breath to the closet he ran,
And stammered with joy, ‘ere his tale he began.
Derry down…

Here’s a jewel, my liege, there’s none such in the land,
Major Scott with three bows, put it into my hand,
And he swore, when he gave it, the wise ones were bit,
For it never was shown to Dundas or to Pitt,
Derry down…

“For Dundas,” cried our Sovereign, “unpublished and rough,
Give him a Scotch pebble – ‘tis more than enough –
And jewels to Pitt, Hastings justly refuses,
For he has already more gifts than he uses.”
Derry down…

“But run, Jenky , run!” adds the king in delight,
“Bring the queen and the princesses here for a sight;
They never would pardon the negligence shown,
If we kept from their knowledge so glorious a stone.”
Derry down…

“But guard the door, Jenky! No credit we’ll win
If the prince, in a frolic, should chance to step in;
The boy to such secrets of State we’ll ne’er call,
Let him wait till he gets our crown, jewels and all!”
Derry down…

In the princesses run, and surprised, cry “O, la!
Tis as big as the egg of a pigeon, papa!”
“And a pigeon of plumage worth plucking is he,”
Replies our good monarch, “who sent it to me!”
Derry down…

Madam Schwellenberg peep’d thro’ the door at a chink,
And tipped on the diamond a sly German wink,
As much as to say, “Can we ever be cruel
To him who has sent us so glorious a jewel?”
Derry down…

Now God save the queen! While the people I teach,
How the king may grow rich, while the Commons impeach,
Then let nabobs go plunder and rob as they will,
And throw in their diamonds as grist to his mill.

Derry down…