The Storming Of Seringapatam (1799)
Extracted from a Family Paper
I address these lines--written in India--to my relatives in England.
My object is to explain the motive which has induced me to refuse the right hand
of friendship to my cousin, John Herncastle. The reserve which I have hitherto
maintained in this matter has been misinterpreted by members of my family
whose goodopinion I cannot consent to forfeit. I request them to suspend their
decision until they have read my narrative. And I declare, on my word of honour,
that what I am now about to write is, strictly and literally, the truth.
The private difference between my cousin and me took its rise in a great public
event in which we were both concerned-- the storming of Seringapatam, under
General Baird, onthe 4th of May, 1799.
In order that the circumstances may be clearly understood, I must revert for a
moment to the period before the assault, and to the stories current in our camp of
the treasure in jewels and gold stored up in the Palace of Seringapatam.
One of the wildest of these stories related to a Yellow Diamond-- a famous gem
in the native annals of India.
The earliest knowntraditions describe the stone as having been set in the
forehead of the four-handed Indian god who typifies the Moon. Partly from its
peculiar colour, partly from a superstition which represented it as feeling the
influence of the deity whom it adorned, and growing and lessening in lustre with
the waxing and waning of the moon, it first gained the name by which it continues
to be known in India tothis day--the name of THE MOONSTONE. A similar
superstition was once prevalent, as I have heard, in ancient Greece and Rome;
not applying, however (as in India), to a diamond devoted to the service of a god,
but to a semi-transparent stone of the inferior order of gems, supposed to be
affected by the lunar influences--the moon, in this latter case also, giving the
name by which the stone isstill known to collectors in our own time.
The adventures of the Yellow Diamond begin with the eleventh century of the
At that date, the Mohammedan conqueror, Mahmoud of Ghizni, crossed India;
seized on the holy city of Somnauth; and stripped of its treasures the famous
temple, which had stood for centuries--the shrine of Hindoo pilgrimage, and the
wonder of the Eastern world.Of all the deities worshipped in the temple, the moon-god alone escaped the
rapacity of the conquering Mohammedans. Preserved by three Brahmins, the
inviolate deity, bearing the Yellow Diamond in its forehead, was removed by
night, and was transported to the second of the sacred cities of India-- the city of
Here, in a new shrine--in a hall inlaid with precious stones, under a roofsupported by pillars of gold--the moon-god was set up and worshipped. Here, on
the night when the shrine was completed, Vishnu the Preserver appeared to the
three Brahmins in a dream.
The deity breathed the breath of his divinity on the Diamond in the forehead of
the god. And the Brahmins knelt and hid their faces in their robes. The deity
commanded that the Moonstone should be watched,from that time forth, by
three priests in turn, night and day, to the end of the generations of men. And the
Brahmins heard, and bowed before his will. The deity predicted certain disaster
to the presumptuous mortal who laid hands on the sacred gem, and to all of his
house and name who received it after him. And the Brahmins caused the
prophecy to be written over the gates of the shrine inletters of gold.
One age followed another--and still, generation after generation, the successors
of the three Brahmins watched their priceless Moonstone, night and day. One
age followed another until the first years of the eighteenth Christian century saw
the reign of Aurungzebe, Emperor of the Moguls. At his command havoc and
rapine were let loose once more among the temples of the worship of...