The Mysterious Mr. Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy

Francis Marion Crawford was a hugely successful American novelist whose first book, Mr. Isaacs, was set in India during the early years of the Theosophical Society. Its title character was inspired, as widely recognized at the time, by a gem merchant named Alexander Malcolm Jacob (1849-1921), whose story is told in a new biography by John Zubrzycki. The main focus of the narrative is in the legal entanglements into which he was drawn by a Nizam of Hyderabad to whom he attempted to sell the world’s largest brilliant-cut diamond. Readers interested in the history of occultism will find the book worthwhile for its discussion of Mme. Blavatsky’s 1880 “cup and saucer” phenomenon at which Jacob was present in Simla.

In a 1913 interview with Gilbert Frankau, the elderly Jacob told of his youthful trip from his native Turkey to India, with an undetermined mixture of autobiography and fiction. This passage shows the relevance of Mr. Jacob as a figure in the mysterious world of adepts and Mahatmas in late 19th century India.

By the time he was fifteen, he was convinced that `somewhere on this earth dwelt one at whose hands I might learn all the mysteries of which my books taught me but half knowledge’…It was in Hyderabad that he finally met his master, `an old man sitting alone under the shade of an old plane tree’, who introduced himself as El Moghraby. `Earth held no secrets from his mind,’ Jacob told his incredulous listener. `The lost lore of Chaldea he knew, and all the mysteries of ancient Atlantis, of Babylon and Nineveh, of Egypt, and of That which came out of Egypt towards the East. Such was El Moghraby, and from him came all the wisdom that was mine.’