Sake Dean Mahomed was an Anglo-Indian traveller, surgeon and entrepreneur who was one of the most notable early non-European immigrants to the Western World. He helped break down cultural barriers between India and England in the early 19th century by introducing Indian cuisine and shampoo baths to Europe, where he offered therapeutic massage at a spa established. He was also the first Indian author to publish a book “The Travels of Dean Mahomed”, in English on January 15, 1794 .
Born in 1759 in the city of Patna, then part of the Bengal Presidency, Mahomed came from Buxar. His father, who belonged to the traditional Nai (barber) caste, was in the employment of the East India Company. He had learned much of alchemy and understood the techniques used to produce various alkali, soaps and shampoo. He later described the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II and the cities of Allahabad and Delhi in rich detail and also made note of the faded glories of the Mughal Empire.
Sake Dean Mahomed grew up in Patna, and his father died when Mahomed was young. At the age of 10, he was taken under the wing of Captain Godfrey Evan Baker, an Anglo-Irish Protestant officer. Mahomed served in the army of the British East India Company as a trainee surgeon and honourably served against the Marathas. Mahomed also mentions how Mir Qasim and most of the entire Bengali Muslim aristocracy had lost their famed wealth. He complained about Shuja-ud-Daula’s campaign against his Rohilla allies and how Hyder Ali defeated the British during the Battle of Pollilur. Mahomed remained with Captain Baker’s unit until 1782, when the Captain resigned. That same year, Mahomed also resigned from the Army, choosing to accompany Captain Baker, ‘his best friend’, to Britain.
In 1794, Mahomed published his travel book, titled “The Travels of Dean Mahomed“. The book begins with the praise of Genghis Khan, Timur and particularly the first Mughal Emperor Babur. It later describes several important cities in India and a series of military conflicts with local Indian principalities. Editor Michael Fisher suggested that some passages in the book were closely paraphrased from other travel narratives written in the late 18th century.
In 1810, after moving to London, Sake Dean Mahomed opened the first Indian restaurant in England: the Hindoostane Coffee House in George Street, near Portman Square, Central London. The luxurious restaurant offered Georgian Brits such delights such as hookah “with real chilm tobacco, and their first taste of curry in Indian dishes, … allowed by the greatest epicures to be unequalled to any curries ever made in England.” Unfortunately, this venture was ended two years later due to financial difficulties.
Before opening his restaurant, Mahomed had worked in London for nabob Basil Cochrane, who had installed a steam bath for public use in his house in Portman Square and promoted its medical benefits. Mahomed may have been responsible for introducing the practice of champooi or “shampooing” (or Indian massage) there. In 1814, Mahomed and his wife moved back to Brighton and opened the first commercial “shampooing” vapour masseur bath in England which was a spa providing a combination of a steam bath and an Indian therapeutic massage The establishment was located on the site now presently occupied by the Queen’s Hotel. He described the treatment in a local paper as “The Indian Medicated Vapour Bath (type of Turkish bath), a cure to many diseases and giving full relief when every thing fails; particularly Rheumatic and paralytic, gout, stiff joints, old sprains, lame legs, aches and pains in the joints”.
This business was an immediate success and Dean Mahomed became known as “Dr. Brighton”. Hospitals referred patients to his care and he was appointed as shampooing surgeon to both King George IV and William IV.
In 1814, Mahomed moved to the beachside town of Brighton and opened the first commercial “shampooing” bath in England, providing a combination of a steam bath and an Indian therapeutic massage. His business flourished, promising to cure diseases and provide relief from various physical pains.
He was so successful that soon he became known as “Dr. Brighton,” with hospitals referring patients to his care. He was also appointed shampooing surgeon to British kings George IV and William IV.
Sake Dean Mahomed and his wife Jane had seven children: Rosanna, Henry, Horatio, Frederick, Arthur, Dean Mahomed (baptised in the Roman Catholic church of St. Finbarr’s, Cork, in 1791 and Amelia (b. 1808). His son, Frederick, was a proprietor of Turkish baths at Brighton and also ran a boxing and fencing academy near Brighton. His most famous grandson, Frederick Henry Horatio Akbar Mahomed (c. 1849–1884), became an internationally known physician and worked at Guy’s Hospital in London. He made important contributions to the study of high blood pressure. Another of Sake Dean Mahomed’s grandsons, Rev. James Kerriman Mahomed, was appointed as the vicar of Hove, Sussex, in the late 19th century.
Mahomed died in 1851 at 32 Grand Parade, Brighton. He was buried in a grave at St Nicholas Church, Brighton, in which his son Frederick was later interred. Frederick taught fencing, gymnastics and other activities in Brighton at a gymnasium he built on the town’s Church Street.He began to lose prominence by the Victorian era and until recently was largely forgotten by history. The literary critic Muneeza Shamsie notes that he also authored the books Cases Cured and Shampooing Surgeon, Inventor of the Indian medicated Vapour and Sea Water Baths etc.