Chapter VIII

A note on ‘Lurgan Sahib’

(by Alec Mason)

Lurgan Sahib’s house is shown on the plan of Simla in the Kipling Journal No. 122 for July 1957. It was well-known as it was also a “Curiosity Shop”. Lurgan’s proper name was Alexander M. Jacob, but a novel entitled Mr. Isaacs (1882) was written about him by an American author, F. Marion Crawford. Jacob was born about 1849 and the novel described him in 1882 as a Persian Moslem with two wives whom he was considering divorcing in order to marry, using the English Marriage service, an English girl. This, of course, was fiction and provided the plot of the novel.

He died in 1921 and his obituary notice in The Times of January 21st stated that Jacob “claimed to be a Turk …. born near Constantinople”. Both accounts agree that he was sold as a slave at the age of ten “to a rich pasha who …. made a student of him …. he acquired wide knowledge of Eastern life, language, art, literature, philosophy and occultism”. After his master’s death he made the pilgrimage to Mecca at the age of twenty-one, which confirms that he was then a Moslem, and went on to Bombay, where he arrived practically penniless. He was employed as a clerk in a Native State on his knowledge of Arabic and, thanks to some successful dealings in precious stones, was able to set up as a dealer in that line at first in Delhi and later in Simla.

The Kipling Journal Nos. 13 and 14 contain further notes. The diary of an officer, who was in Simla a year before the time described in Marion Crawford’s novel, contains references to a Mr. and Mrs. Jacob whose invitations he accepted about eight times during the summer and he describes them as “nice Christian people”. The Daily Graphic of 23rd December 1891, gives an interesting account, purporting to be first-hand, of Alexander Jacob, who was “in the news” at the time, owing to the “Imperial Diamond” Case which is described in Kipling Journal No. 13. As this account differs considerably, it may be of interest to quote it here in full. After dealing with the case, and mentioning the connection between Jacob and Mr. Isaacs, the article proceeds:

“Mr. Alexander Jacob is a wealthy dealer in gems …. He is of Turkish extraction. His grandfather was an engineer at Constantinople, and his father the first soap manufacturer in the Ottoman Empire. In a recent interview Mr. Jacob told the story of his life as follows:
`As a boy I engaged myself to the British Telegraph service, then engaged in joining Scutari with the Persian Gulf. After that I had a run of ill-luck. I sailed for Bombay, got wrecked off the Muscat coast, and reached this city (Bombay), without either hat or boots, and with only six annas in my pocket.

This story I told to Mr. Crawford in Simla, as I have now told it to you, and he made use of it in his novel in which he called me ‘Isaacs’. It is not true I went to Hyderabad in company with a merchant conveying ladies there for the Nizam’s zenana. I was so very poor that I would take no conveyance, and walked all the way from Bombay to Hyderabad. I am employed at Hyderabad, but not by the late Nizam. In fact I never knew him in my life. It was the first noble, the Ami-ul-Kabir, father of the present Sir Kharsheedjah Bahadur, who employed me. I remained with my master for a year and a half, and then went to Calcutta, where I got work from Messrs. Charles Nephew and Co., jewellers.

Leaving them, I served for a short time with the Nawab of Rampur. It was not Ulwar, but Dholpur I served latterly, and I am proud to say, a kinder, more honest old Native Chief I never met. But my stay with him was not all a bed of roses. As was the case at Hyderabad, some officials got jealous of me, and making a false and groundless complaint against me to the political agent, tried to get me dismissed; but they failed. I applied to Lord Mayo, and was left alone in peace afterwards. It was not till the death of the old chief that I left Dholpur State, and went to Simla, where I started the business I now carry on. This was in the year 1877.’ “

If it was Dholpur that is in Rajputana, 30 miles south of Agra.

[Alec Mason, 1961]