Who Was Sake Dean Mahomed?
Sake Dean Mahomed (Bengali:শেখ দেয়েন মুহাম্মদ 1759–1851) was an Indian traveler, surgeon, and entrepreneur who was one of the most notable early non-European immigrants to the Western World. Due to his foreign origin, his name is often spelled various ways in English documentation. He introduced Indian cuisine and shampoo baths to Europe, where he offered therapeutic massage. He was also the first Indian to publish a book in English.
Born in May of 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 employed by the British East India Company. He had studied alchemy and understood the methods used to produce various alkalis, soaps, and shampoo. He later described the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II and the cities of Allahabad and Delhi in rich detail and recorded the faded glories of the Mughal Empire.
Sake Dean Mahomed grew up in Patna; 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 East India Company as a trainee surgeon and 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 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.
Celebrating Sake Dean Mahomed
A man of many talents, Sake Dean Mahomed was an entrepreneur who made a name for himself by building cultural connections between India and England. On this day in 1794, he became the first Indian author to publish a book in English and later, to open an Indian restaurant in England—ushering in what would become one of Great Britain’s most popular cuisines. Mahomed went on to find success as the “The Shampooing Surgeon of Brighton,” opening a spa in the British seaside town that attracted the rich and royal.
In 1810, after moving to London, Mahomed opened the Hindostanee Coffee House, Britain’s first Indian restaurant. The Epicure’s Almanack—an early London restaurant guide—hailed it as a place for nobility to enjoy hookah and Indian dishes of the highest perfection. Nonetheless, Mahomed was forced to close his luxurious restaurant in 1812 and sought to reinvent himself.
Moving his family to the beachside town of Brighton, he opened a spa named Mahomed’s Baths offering luxurious herbal steam baths. His specialty was a combination of a steam bath and an Indian therapeutic massage—a treatment he named “shampooing” inspired by the Hindi word Champissage meaning “a head massage.” He also published a book about the therapeutic benefits of the treatment with testimonials from his patients. In 1822, King George IV appointed Mahomed as his personal ‘shampooing surgeon’, which greatly improved his business. A portrait of Mahomed hangs in the Brighton Museum, commemorating this man who helped merge the cultures of his two homelands.
Happy Birthday, Sake Dean Mahomed!
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Sake Dean Mahomed Books
By the Victorian period, Sake Dean Mahomed had begun to lose prominence as a public figure and until the scholarly interventions of the last fifty years was largely forgotten by history. The modern renewal of interest in his writings developed after poet and scholar Alamgir Hashmidrew’s attention to this author in the 1970s and 1980s. Michael H. Fisher has written a book on Sheikh Dean Mahomet entitled The First Indian Author in English: Dean Mahomed in India, Ireland, and England (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1996). Additionally, Rozina Visram’s Ayahs, Lascars, and Princes: The Story of Indians in Britain 1700–1947 (1998) was highly influential in drawing public attention to Mahomed’s life and work.
Several commemorations of and tributes to Mahomed’s legacy have taken place in the 21st century. On 29 September 2005, the City of Westminster unveiled a Green Plaque commemorating the opening of the Hindoostane Coffee House. The plaque is at 102 George Street, close to the original site of the coffee house at 34 George Street. On 15 January 2019, Google recognized Sake Dean Mahomed with a Google Doodle on the main page.
Sake Dean Mahomed Descendants
Sake Dean Mahomed Shampoo Bath
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, on the site now occupied by the Queen’s Hotel. He described the treatment in a local paper as “The Indian Medicated Vapour Bath (a type of Turkish bath), a cure to many diseases and giving full relief when everything 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 him and he was appointed as shampooing surgeon to both King George IV and William IV.
The literary critic Muneeza Shamsie notes that Mahomed wrote two books connected to his burgeoning trade. The first was Cases Cured by Sake Deen Mahomed, Shampooing Surgeon, and Inventor of the Indian Medicated Vapor and Sea-Water Bath (1820), while the second, Shampooing; or, benefits resulting from the use of the Indian medicated vapor bath, went through three editions (1822, 1826, 1838) and was dedicated to King George IV. In this work, Mahomed speaks of the initial resistance to the idea of shampooing among the English he encountered in his new country: “It is not in the power of any individual to give unqualified satisfaction, or to attempt to establish a new opinion without the risk of incurring the ridicule, as well as censure, of some portion of mankind. So it was with me: in the face of indisputable evidence, I had to struggle with doubts and objections raised and circulated against my Bath, which, but for the repeated and numerous cures effected by it, would long since have shared the common fate of most innovations in science.”
Sake Dean Mahomed Game
Google celebrated Anglo-Indian traveler Sake Dean Mahomed’s 260th birth anniversary, who was the first Indian author to publish a book in English, with a special doodle.
The doodle features kitchen ingredients like tamarind and salt, surrounded by celery leaves.
Mahomed, known as the man of many talents, was one of the first entrepreneurs who gained popularity by building cultural connections between India and England. He ventured into various industries like publishing, F&B, and wellness.
Sake Dean Mahomed Age
Mahomed died on February 24, 1851 (aged 91–92) at 32 Grand Parade, Brighton.