On 29 March 1849, the young maharajah of the Punjab, Dulip Singh, was ushered into the magnificent Mirrored Hall at the centre of the great fort in Lahore. There, in a public ceremony, the frightened but dignified child finally yielded to months of British pressure and signed a formal Act of Submission. This document, later known as the Treaty of Lahore, handed over to the British East India Company great swathes of the richest land in India – land that, until that moment, had formed the independent Sikh kingdom of the Punjab, a northern region of south Asia.
At the same time, Dulip (sometimes spelled Duleep) was induced to hand over to Queen Victoria arguably the single most valuable object in not just the Punjab but the entire subcontinent: the celebrated Koh-i-Noor diamond, the ‘Mountain of Light’. Article III of the treaty read simply: “The gem called the Koh-i-Noor, which was taken from Shah Sooja ool-Moolk [Shah Shuja Durrani] by Maharajah Runjeet [or Ranjit] Singh, shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England.”
The East India Company, the world’s first multinational, had grown over the course of a century from an operation employing only 35 permanent staff, headquartered in one small office in the City of London, into the most powerful and heavily militarised corporation in history. Its eyes had been fixed on the Punjab and the diamond for many years, and the chance to acquire both finally arose in 1839, at the death of Dulip Singh’s father, Maharajah Ranjit Singh, when the Punjab had descended into anarchy.
Read more about the murky history of the Kohinoor diamond on the HistoryExtra.com website HERE