THE “REGENT” OR “PITT” DIAMOND
FIRST known as the “Pitt,” then as the “Regent,” this perfect diamond has a remarkable history. Its adventures began very much on the lines of several other great stones. Cupidity, murder, remorse, are factors in the opening chapter. Troubles, political, social, and personal, accompany the gem to its last resting-place. It was found by a slave in the Parteal mines, forty-five leagues south of Golconda, in the year 1701. The story goes that, to secure his treasure, he cut a hole in the calf of his leg, and concealed it, one account says, in the wound itself, another in the bandages. As the stone weighed 410 carats before it was cut, the last version is, no doubt, the correct one. The slave escaped to Madras, where he met with an English skipper, to whom he offered to give the diamond in return for his liberty, which was to be secured by the skipper carrying him to a free country.
Another account states that the skipper promised to find him a purchaser for the stone, and to halve the profits; wherein lay the motive for the atrocious crime of luring the poor fellow on board, securing possession of the diamond, and then flinging him into the sea. The captain then offered it to Jamchund (or Jamelchund) one of the most eminent diamond merchants in those parts, obtaining a thousand pounds, which he speedily ran through, and then hanged himself. Jamchund sold it to Mr. Thomas Pitt, governor of Fort St. George, for f 20,400: this was in the year 1710. The diamond was very skilfully cut in London at great cost, and its weight reduced to f 3/4 carats. In 1717, Mr. Pitt sold it to the Duke of Orleans, Regent of France, for f 135,000: it has since been valued at more than three times that sum. Mr. Pitt probably netted f 100,000 by his venture. With this he restored the fortunes of the ancient house of Pitt, which was destined later on to give to England two of her greatest statesmen and orators; for the governor of Fort St. George was grandfather of the great Earl of Chatham, father of the illustrious William Pitt.
During the French Revolution, in 1792, robbers entered the Garde-Meuble, or Treasury, and carried off the whole of the French Regalia, including the famous “Regent” diamond. Twelve years afterwards one of the robbers, when on his trial for another crime, informed the court that it was he who made known the hiding-place of the “Regent” and other valuables upon the promise that he should be pardoned, which promise, he added, was faithfully kept. He reminded the court that “this magnificent diamond was pledged by the First Consul to the Dutch Government, in order to raise the money, of which he stood in the greatest need after the 18th Brumaire.” It was redeemed from the Dutch Government, and the first emperor is known to have worn it in the pommel of his sword. It was shown at the French Exhibition of 1855.
The reader may possibly have noticed some discrepancy between the two references in the lecture (pages 32 and 37) to the sword of state of the Emperor. We will endeavor to make it clear by the aid of Mr. Streeter’s ably-written work, “The Great Diamonds of the World,” to which we are indebted for most of our information. Mr. Streeter’s “accounts of the ‘Pitt’ and the ‘Eugenie’ were revised by Her Majesty the Empress Eugenie,” so that we may accept his statements as conclusive. He says that the story about the sword referred to having been found in the Emperor’s state carriage after the battle of Waterloo by the Prussians, is “highly improbable.” Even if it really was taken to Berlin on that occasion, it was subsequently restored; for it was known to be “the most conspicuous gem in the now disused crown of France. It was among the crown jewels when, in 1881, Parliament discussed a bill relative to their sale, and resolved to retain those that were of the greatest historic or intrinsic value; the peerless “Regents” therefore, was retained.