By Wendy Hughes
Brighton is full of unknown stories; for instance, do you know what an Indian gentleman, shampoo baths, therapeutic massage, south Asian cuisine and travelling has to do with Brighton? Quite a lot actually!
Sake Dean Mahomed was a Bengali traveller who became one of the most notable non-European immigrants to the Western world . He was also the first Indian to publish a book in English.
Born in Patna, Bihar, India in 1759, Mahomed’s father belonged to the traditional Nai (barber) caste and was employed by the East India Company. His father had also studied Mughal alchemy and had a good grounding in the techniques used to produce soaps and shampoos.
Mahomed’s father died when he was only ten years old, and like his father he joined the East India Company Army at the age of 11, where he found a father figure in Captain Godfrey Evan Baker, an Anglo-Irish officer who treated him like a son.
He served in the British East India Company Army as a trainee surgeon, and remained with Captain Baker’s Unit until the captain retired in 1782. After 13 years in service Mahomed chose to leave the army and accompany ‘his best friend’ Captain Baker, to Cork in Ireland, where the Captain paid for him to study English language skills and literature at a local school.
It was whilst at this school that Mahomed met and fell in love with Jane Daly, an Irish woman with respectable parentage. The Daly family strongly opposed the relationship, so Mahomed converted from Islam to Protestantism, but because at the time it was illegal for Protestants and Catholics to marry the couple eloped and married.
Mahomed and his young growing family moved to London in search of work, but instead of settling amongst the merchants who traded with India he moved to Portman Square, the hub of High Society.
His first job was as an assistant to Sir Basil Cochrane, who had installed a steam bath for public use in his home in Portman Square and promoted it for its medical benefits. Whilst employed it is claimed that Mahomed was responsible for introducing the practice of ‘champoo’ that became anglicised as shampooing, (Indian massage). The treatment involved first lying in a herbal steam bath, and when the patient was sweating they were placed in a flannel tent with sleeves. Outside the tent the practitioner would put his arms through the sleeves and administer the massage.
In 1810 when Mahomed had saved enough money he opened an Indian restaurant, the Hindoostane Coffee House in George Street, near Portman Square offering his customers the Indian experience complete with bamboo furniture, curries and real Chilm tobacco. The aim was to attract the people who had served in India and had returned to Britain, but unfortunately there was already an established restaurant on the east side of town, and the Indian servants brought over by their employers cooked their native dishes.
So with too much competition Mahomed was forced to take on a partner, and the venture ended up declaring bankruptcy.
Mahomed, now in his fifties moved his family to Brighton and the only work he could find was as a manager of a bathhouse, so be began to reinvent himself as the ‘Inventor of the Indian Medicated Vapour Baths.’ Cashing in on his Indian heritage he added the title Sake ( a variation of Sheik) to his name, and later opened the first ‘shampooing’ vapour masseur bath in England on the site now occupied by the Queen’s Hotel in Brighton.
His treatments were described in a local paper as the
Indian Medicated Vapour Bath (a type of Turkish bath), and a cure for many
diseases and giving relief to such things as rheumatic, gout, stiff joints, lame legs
and aches and pains of the joints. His business became an instant success and he
became known as ‘Dr Brighton’ with hospitals referring patients to him. He was also
appointed shampooing surgeon to both King George VI and William IV.
When the couple moved to Brighton they had five children, Rosanna, Henry, Horatio, Frederick and Arthur, with three more being born in Brighton, but soon after they moved, a son and daughter died. Interestingly one of their grandsons, Frederick Henry Horatio Akbar Mahomed (1849-1884) became an internationally known physician who worked at Guy’s Hospital in London and made valuable contributions to the study of high blood pressure.
Another of their grandsons, Rev James Kerriman Mahomed was appointed vicar of Hove, East Sussex in the late 19th century.
Mohomed headstone at St Nicholas’ Church Brighton
Mahomed was also a generous donor to local charities and became the official
steward for the Annual Charity Ball, dressed in a costume modelled on the Mughal
In 1851he died at the age of 92, just two months after Jane died, at his
home in 32 Grand Parade Brighton and is buried in a grave in St Nicholas’ Church,
Brighton. His son Frederick, who taught fencing, gymnastics and other sporting
activities in Brighton at a gymnasium that he built in the town’s Church Street, was later interned in the same grave.
Until recently Mahomed has largely been forgotten, but on 29 September 2005 the City of Westminster unveiled a Green Plaque commemorating the opening of the
Hindoostane Coffee House, and a plaque can also be seen at 102 George Street,
close to the original site of the coffee house at 34 George Street.
Queen’s Hotel Brighton