Jacob, Mr. (‘‘Jacob of Simla’’) (ca.
1850–1921)
A reputed wonder-worker of India during the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries. A rich diamond merchant,
Jacob had a reputation for generosity and for working
miracles. He was immortalized in literature, serving as the archetype
for the main character in the novel Mr. Isaacs (1882),
by F. Marion Crawford. In the novel, Isaacs is a disciple of
Brahmin initiate Ram Lal, whose mystical powers include appearing
and disappearing at will.
Jacob was also the model for ‘‘Lurgan Sahib,’’ the mysterious
secret agent with hypnotic powers in Rudyard Kipling’s
great novel Kim (1901). Lurgan, too, is a dealer in precious
stones and describes himself as a ‘‘Healer of Pearls.’’ He boasts,
‘‘There is no one but me can doctor a sick pearl and re-blue turquoises.
I grant you opals—any fool can cure an opal—but for
a sick pearl there is only me. Suppose I were to die! Then there
would be no one.’’
Crawford first met Jacob in a hotel in Simla, India. Jacob invited
the novelist to his room, where Crawford was astounded
by an Aladdin’s cave of wealth and beauty
‘‘It appeared as if the walls and the ceiling were lined with
gold and precious stones. . . . Every available space, nook and
cranny was filled with gold and jeweled ornaments, shining
weapons or uncouth but resplendent idols. . . . The floor was
covered with a rich, soft pile, and low divans were heaped with
cushions of deep-tinted silk and gold . . . superbly illuminated
Arabic manuscripts. . . . At last I turned, and from contemplating
the magnificence and inanimate wealth, I was riveted by the
majestic face and expression of the beautiful living creature,
who by a turn of his want, or, to speak prosaically, by an invitation
to smoke had lifted me out of the humdrum into a land
peopled with all the effulgent fantasy and the priceless realities
of the magic East.’’
After publication of Crawford’s novel, wild rumors spread
about the reputed magical powers of Jacob, whose operation
was assisted by his spirit guide, ‘‘Ram Lal,’’ who was said to have
died 150 years earlier. An article by a European occultist calling
himself ‘‘Tautriadelta’’ (pseudonym of Dr. Roslyn D’Onston) a
pupil of Lord Lytton) in Borderland (April 1896) recounts miracles
performed by Jacob, such as growing bunches of ripe black
grapes on a walking stick, thrusting a sword into a man’s body
without injury, and walking on water. Some time later, interviewed
by a member of the Society for Psychical Research,
Jacob was quoted as saying that the growing of buds and blossoms
on a walking stick was a trick with a prepared stick, and
that pushing a sword into the body was only a matter of skill
and knowledge, but that his walking on water was achieved by
being supported in the air by his spirit guide, who also acted
as a kind of ‘‘astral postman,’’ delivering messages over vast distances
when needed.
This last phenomenon is of particular interest considering
that Jacob met Theosophist Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who
later acquired fame for the magical precipitation of ‘‘Mahatma
letters’’ over a distance. Jacob himself regarded Blavatsky as no
more than ‘‘a clever conjurer.’’
Jacob’s early life was as romantic as his later life was reputed
to be. He was born a Turkish or Armenian Jew near Constantinople
and sold into slavery at age ten. He was bought by a rich
and intelligent pasha who saw that the boy had great abilities
and instead of giving him menial tasks educated him in Eastern
life, literature, philosophy, and occultism. On the death of his
patron Jacob made a pilgrimage to Mecca, then took passage
to Bombay, landing without money or friends. Through his
knowledge of Arabic he soon obtained a position as scribe to a
nobleman at the Nizam’s court in Hyderabad. There he started
dealing in precious stones, later moving to Delhi, then to
Simla, where he became one of the most famous jewelers of the
time. Maharajahs from all over India engaged his services and
he became a rich man, furnishing his house in Oriental splendor
with priceless and lavish possessions. At home he received
Indian princes, viceroys, governors, and distinguished members
of the civil and military services. Lord Lytton, then viceroy,
visited him and remained for several days. In spite of his lavish
surroundings, Jacob lived a simple vegetarian life, occasionally
entertaining guests with occult marvels that became the gossip
of Simla.
The story of his eventual downfall is equally remarkable. He
had incurred the displeasure of a prime minister at Hyderabad
through giving information about the brutal execution of a
Hindu by the minister’s brother. Knowing that the Imperial Diamond
was being sold in England, Jacob offered to buy it for
the nizam of Hyderabad, who agreed to pay him 46 lakhs of rupees
(more than $600,000). Jacob knew that he could buy it for
half that sum and saw the chance of a good bargain. The nizam
paid him 20 lakhs of rupees on account. After the diamond arrived
in India and was paid for by Jacob, the prime minister
urged the government of India to prevent the sale, knowing
that there was an official embargo on princes spending such
large sums. The sale was vetoed and Jacob was left with the diamond
and less than half the sum promised by the nizam. Next,
the prime minister urged the nizam to sue Jacob for return of
the money already paid. The trial lasted 57 days; after returning
the nizam’s deposit and paying legal costs, Jacob was ruined.
In desperation he offered the diamond to the nizam at
any price from one rupee upward and the nizam agreed to pay
17 lakhs of rupees. Jacob never received any money after handing
over the diamond, however, and was penniless. He retired
to Bombay, living in penury and later becoming blind.
Sources
Fodor, Nandor. The Haunted Mind. New York Garrett Publications,
1959.
Heath, Frederick W. ‘‘The Story of Mr. Isaacs’ Life.’’ Occult
Review (October 1912).
Russell, Edmund. ‘‘‘Mr. Isaacs’ of Simla.’’ Occult Review
(March 1917).