An important Mughal inscribed Emerald mounted in an early Victorian diamond-set enamelled gold Bangle, bearing the name of Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Hannay Mughal India and Victorian England dated AH 1185/ AD 1771-72

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Lot 329
An important Mughal inscribed Emerald mounted in an early Victorian diamond-set enamelled gold Bangle, bearing the name of Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Hannay
Mughal India and Victorian England dated AH 1185/ AD 1771-72
Sold for £ 90,000 (US$ 119,490) inc. premium

Lot Details
An important Mughal inscribed Emerald mounted in an early Victorian diamond-set enamelled gold Bangle, bearing the name of Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Hannay Mughal India and Victorian England dated AH 1185/ AD 1771-72
An important Mughal inscribed Emerald mounted in an early Victorian diamond-set enamelled gold Bangle, bearing the name of Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Hannay
Mughal India and Victorian England dated AH 1185/ AD 1771-72
the emerald of rectangular step-cut, the detachable diamond-set gold mount in the form of a floriated cartouche, the shanks of the hinged bangle with white enamel decoration depicting a stylised scrolling floral vine, in a Victorian leather fitted case marked "Hunt and Roskell, Jewellers and Goldsmiths to the Queen and Royal Family"
the emerald 24 x 20 mm. and 24.62ct; the bangle 63 mm. max. diam.


  • Provenance: Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Hannay (1741/2 - 1782); and by descent to the present owner.

    The inscription reads: "Amin al-Mulk Ashraf al-Dawla Alexander Hannay Bahadur Arsalan Jang AH 1185/ AD 1771/2".

    Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Hannay (1741/2-1783) was a soldier, administrator and adventurer, who amassed a substantial personal fortune in 18th Century India. Born into a Scottish landed family, he obtained an Ensign's commission His Majesty's 51st Regiment of Foot in December 1758. The following year he saw active service in the Seven Years War (1756-1763) in Western Germany under the Marquis of Granby, being present at the notable victory over the French at Minden fought on 1st August 1759. Having been advanced to Lieutenant on 2nd August 1760, he found himself unemployed when peace returned to Europe and looked to the recent British domination of Bengal to further his career. Supported by a 'splendid testimonial from his commander-in-chief', Hannay volunteered his services to the British East India Company and was given a Captain's commission in the Company's Bengal Army, dated 4th August 1765.

    Appointed to the Bengal European Regiment, his career in the East nearly came to a premature end in 1766 when he was shipwrecked with the company of soldiers under his command in the British East Indiaman Falmouth (26 guns) off the Sogar Bank in the Bay of Bengal. On 1st October 1769 he was promoted Major and in May 1772 was appointed to the staff of a brigade of infantry.

    In 1774, the year in which Warren Hastings, the Governor of the Calcutta Presidency, became the first Governor-General of India, Hannay was selected for the command of East India Company troops in a military expedition in support of Shuja-ud-Duala, the Nawab of Oudh, against the Afghan Rohillas, who were refusing to pay the Nawab a £2 million debt for military assistance in ejecting Mahratta forces from Rohilkhand.

    Warren Hastings's decision to support Shuja-ud-Duala, albeit at a price, was based on the concern that failing to do so would expose Oudh to the whim of a predatory neighbour and thereby endanger British interests in Bengal. It was a decision that would have serious consequences for Governor-General and ultimately for the posthumous reputation of Alexander Hannay, when Hastings was later accused of 'robbery, cruelty and oppression towards the princes of India', and impeached by the British Parliament in 1787.

    After a march into Rohilkhand, the joint forces of the East India Company and the Nawab clashed with 40,000 Rohillas at the battle of Miranpur Katra on 23rd April 1774 (otherwise known to the British as the Battle of St. George after the day on which it was fought). In the ensuing action, in which Rohilla regent Hafiz Rahmat Ali Khan was killed and his army routed, Hannay is said to have distinguished himself leading "the Select Picket and the Sepoy Grenadiers". Thereafter the whole of Rohilkhand fell to Shuja-ud-Duala, and was systematically plundered and occupied by his forces fuelling the outrage of growing numbers of British critics of Hastings's policies in both Calcutta and London.

    Opponents of Hastings on the Bengal council, who had been put in place following the introduction of the 1773 Act for the Regulation, formed a committee of inquiry into the complicity of British in the misdeeds perpetrated in Rohilkhand. Accordingly Colonel Leslie, Colonel Champion and Major Hannay were cross-examined "in the hope of fixing on Hastings, in conjunction with the Wazir the stigma of barbaric cruelty in its execution. The air was thick challenge and counter-challenge, insinuations, retorts. Ordinary business [of government] was suspended ...". In the midst of such political turmoil, Hannay, at a date unknown, secured the important appointment of Adjutant-General of the Army in India.

    In the prolonged struggle between Warren Hastings and his opponents, Hannay proved a favourite agent of the Governor-General not least because of his depth of knowledge of Indian politics and courtly intrigues. In 1776 Hastings entrusted Hannay with a delicate mission to enlist the support of the warlord Najaf Khan, with whom he was personally acquainted, against a confederacy of Mahrattas, Sikhs and Rohillas suspected to be on the point of invading Oudh. Unfortunately on this occasion Hannay exceeded his instructions and advanced beyond limits of the Company's jurisdiction in the hopes of gathering intelligence from Mirza Khalil, a confidential agent of Najaf Khan's at Lucknow.

    Evidence of the cordial nature of relationship between Hannay and his chief is further evinced in a letter from Hannay written 1778 in which he gifted him "a labada of twelve fatted deer" and also "two nightingales for Mrs Hastings" sent from the borders of Tibet. In 1778 Hastings granted Hannay permission to enter the service of Asaf-ud-Daulah, who succeeded Shuja-ud-Duala in 1775, as a commander of one of the Nawab's four military bodies. It was not, however, an arrangement that suited the Nawab, as the Rohilla War debt was still outstanding and the additional cost of Hannay's "useless" brigade was yet another cause of financial indebtedness to the East India Company. This post led in turn to Hannay's most lucrative appointment, that of "farmer" of revenues in Gorakhpur district. On 4th September 1780 he was promoted Lieutenant–Colonel, although, as a disgusted Edmund Burke later told the House of Lords during the trial of Warren Hastings, Hannay was already using the rank.

    As a tax collector Hannay, with a military force at his disposal, was ruthlessly efficient, producing twenty-two lakhs of rupees for the Nawab's near empty coffers besides a fortune for himself. The harsh measures employed by Hannay included the imprisonment of hostages and beheading of uncooperative landowners, causing the country people to rise against him. According to Burke, the Nawab took steps to have Hannay removed on more than one occasion but thanks to Hastings' intervention Hannay was permitted to continue. His record in Gorakkphur was unfavourably scrutinized in the harshest of terms by Burke and upheld as the cause of the insurrection in Oudh in 1781. Such, however, would be to ignore the intriguing of late Nawab's widow, the Bahu Begum, and the late Nawab's mother, Sadr un-nisa in encouraging Raja Chait Singh of Benares in his refusal to co-operate with the Company. Moreover a defence of Hannay's methods may be found in the contemporary testimony of a subordinate, Abu Talib, who stated that Hannay achieved his goals not by embezzlement, but by "strict management and efficiency".

    When the forces of insurrection swept through Gorakhpur, some 4,000 tenants and employees of Hannay's were slaughtered, causing Hastings dispatch Company troops to extract him. Hannay had no doubt who was to blame for the rebellion when he wrote, "The old begam [sic] does in the most open and violent manner support Chait Singh's rebellion and insurrection, and the nawab's mother's accursed eunuchs are not less industrious than those of the Burra Begam." In the wake of the 1781 rebellion, Hannay was finally dismissed by the Nawab, but not without his loot. Edmund Burke claimed that Hannay was known to be in debt before entering Asaf-ud-Daulah's service, yet he returned to Calcutta "like a leech full of blood" in possession of a personal fortune of £300,000, of which £80,000 was in gold mohurs. Within a year of his return to the city, however, he died, unmarried, on 4th September 1782 at the age forty.


    Bond, E.A. (ed.).  Speeches of the Managers and Counsel in the Trial of Warren Hastings, Vols. I-IV, Longman, London, 1861;
    Buckland, C.E. Dictionary of Indian Biography, 1968;
    Burke, E.  Articles of high crimes and misdemeanors against Warren Hastings, Esq. late Governor of Bengal: presented to the House of Commons on the 12th day of April 1786 by the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, J. Debrett, London, 1786;
    Clark, A.  Scandal: the sexual politics of the British constitution, Princeton University Press, 2004;
    Davies, C.C.  Warren Hastings and Oudh, Oxford University Press, 1939;
    Grier, S.C. (ed.).  The Letters of Warren Hastings to his Wife, Edinburgh, 1905;
    Hodson, V.C.P. (ed.).  List of the Officers of The Bengal Army, 1788-1834, London, 1928;
    Weitzman, S.  Warren Hastings and Philip Francis, Manchester University Press, 1929;
    Wheater, W.  A Record of the services of the Fifty First Foot, 1870.

    Carved gem-stones in the Islamic World

    This particular emerald is remarkable for its size and depth of colour, which is evenly saturated and transparent.  The nasta'liq inscription is by a fine hand with minimal decorative ornament.  It is unsurprising that such a fine stone would be converted into a piece of jewellery by a subsequent generation of the Hannay family in the 19th Century.

    Carved and engraved emeralds were part of the riches of the Mughal treasuries. Although India was reportedly a source of emeralds in the early Islamic period, it is probable that the large Mughal carved emeralds came from the Colombian mines in South America, such as those of Muzo and Chivor, discovered by the Spaniards in the 16th Century. Some idea of the Mughal passion for emeralds can be gained from the gems now in the Iranian National Collection. Nadir Shah took large numbers of polished emerald beads with him when he sacked Delhi in 1739. Some of these bore inscriptions, including one with the name of Jahangir (V.B.  Meen and A.D. Tushingham, Crown Jewels of Iran, Toronto, 1968, pp.46, 64-5; case 27, no.32).

    The natural crystal habit of emerald, a variety of beryl, takes the form of hexagonal prisms, usually with flat terminations. The Mughals, as noted above, often polished emerald crystals to form large beads, thus retaining as much of the original stone as possible. To form a flat plaque as in the present piece, the crystals had to be cut. Flat slices could be cut across the hexagonal crystal, retaining the original outline, as is seen on one of the emeralds in the al-Sabah Collection in Kuwait. (Manuel Keene and Sue Kaoukji, Treasury of the World, London, 2001, p.141, no.12.24.)

    Carved and engraved emeralds fall into two principal groups: those carved in relief and those with inscriptions cut into the surface of the stone. The latter group can be sub-divided into those with positive and negative inscriptions.

    Emeralds with relief carving, in which the design has been left raised above the surface include a group with floral decoration dating from the late 16th through to the early 18th Centuries, with specimens in the al-Sabah Collection in Kuwait and elsewhere. These are un-inscribed. (Keene and Kaoukji 2001, pp.111-2.)

    A further group of emeralds have inscriptions in naskh script engraved on them, using a diamond tipped stylus, reading in positive. The inscriptions are usually religious, including quotations from the Qur'an. (Keene and Kaoukji 2001, p.141, nos. 12.24. and 12.25.) A large carved emerald, dated AH 1107/ AD 1695-6 has a floral design in relief on one side, and an engraved Shi'a prayer inscribed in naskh on the other side. (Qatar 2002, pp.16-19, no.2.)

    We would like to thank Michael Spink for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.
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