The Mysterious Mr Jacob

The Mysterious Mr Jacob

Diamond Merchant, Magician & Spy

Book - 2017
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"It was a scandal that rocked the highest echelons of the British Raj. In 1891, a notorious jeweller and curio dealer from Simla offered to sell the world's largest brilliant-cut diamond to the fabulously wealthy Nizam of Hyderabad. If the audacious deal succeeded it would set the merchant up for life. But the transaction went horribly wrong. The Nizam accused him of fraud, triggering a sensational trial in the Calcutta High Court that made headlines around the world..."--Back cover.
Publisher: Melbourne [Victoria], Transit Lounge Publishing,, 2017.
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9780995359437
Characteristics: xiii, 289, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm.

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j
jr3083
May 24, 2017

In 1912 it was said that when the real story of Alexander Malcolm Jacob was written, it would be invested with more wonder and mystery than “even in our strangest dreams we never imagined it could possess.”(p.247)

Well, it took a hundred years, but in this book John Zubrzycki has probably got as close to the “real” story as anyone else is likely to do. Mr Jacob – diamond merchant, magician and spy – was happy to embroider and dissemble about his actual origins, but for the civil servants of the British Raj who escaped to the Indian hills of Simla to escape the summer heat, Mr Jacob was a celebrity. His shop was full of gems, curiosities and wonders, he lived in a opulent mansion ‘Belvedere’ and he was sought out for his magic and mystical skills and political contacts. He appeared in multiple newspaper articles, essays, books and Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (albeit, not under his own name but as Lurgan Sahib). He dealt with Indian princes and maneuvered the shadow world of British spies operating in the Far East, and yet he ended up largely impoverished, living on a rather miserly pension before his death in 1921 aged 71.

Many rumours spread about his origins – Jewish? Greek? Polish? Italian? – but Zubrzycki has tracked his birthplace down to a small town in Turkey, near the Syrian border. He was actually Catholic, but in a world obsessed with spiritualism, he attracted Theosophists and the adherents of Madame Blavatsky. He arrived in Bombay in 1865 penniless, and within 12 years had achieved celebrity status. His greatest, and as it turned out, most damaging challenge was to sell the Imperial diamond, the largest brilliant-cut diamond in the world, to Mahboob Ali Khan, the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad in 1891. Fabulously wealthy and opium-addicted, the Nizam liked gems, and Jacob undertook to bring him the diamond from Europe on approval, hoping to make a hefty profit for his efforts. But the sale ended up in court and here, if perhaps anywhere, Zubryzycki got closest to discovering what may be the truth about Alexander Jacob.

The book is framed as the author’s search for the ‘real’ Mr Jacob, and the author strolls onto the page quite frequently as he hunts for locations, searches for documents and seeks an elusive photograph of him.
...
The author has an engaging style, whipping up interest at the start of each chapter, and if he digresses it’s because they’re such interesting alleyways into which he is being drawn.
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It’s a rattling good yarn, as Mr Jacob knew himself in his various retellings and embellishments, and you can’t help but be imbued with Zubryzycki’s passion for such an enigmatic character.

For the full review, see https://residentjudge.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/the-mysterious-mr-jacob-by-john-zubrzycki/

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