Earlier this month, Sake Dean Mahomed became the star of a Google Doodle. The doodle was timed to mark the anniversary of the publication of ‘The Travels of Dean Mahomet’, the first book in English by an Indian author. But Mahomed’s most successful years were in Brighton, as described by guide and researcher Louise Peskett.
Born in Patna, India, in 1759 into a Muslim family, Mahomed began his career in the army of the British East India Company where he served until 1782. He left to accompany his friend and commanding officer to Ireland where he met and married a local woman, Jane Daly.
When the couple migrated to England, Mahomed was never short of ideas about how to make his living. In 1794 he published a book about India, The Travels of Dean Mahomet, now regarded as the first work in English by an Indian author. He also opened a restaurant in London selling Indian food, the ‘Hindoostane Coffee House’ near Portman Square. Opening in 1810, this was the first Indian restaurant in Britain.
Unfortunately Mahomed’s restaurant was perhaps a little too ahead of its time and it fell into difficulty. However, his next career move was much more successful. Arriving in Brighton in 1814, at the height of the popularity of sea bathing, Mahomed promptly opened an indoor baths in Pool Valley on the seafront.
In Mahomed’s Baths, people could bathe in sea water that had been piped in and warmed – a much more attractive option for many people than being dipped in the cold, rough seas. Mahomed also introduced a range of treatments from India, such as ‘’Shampooing with Indian Oils’, a type of aromatherapy massage, and ‘the Indian Medicated Vapour Bath’ which required people to sit down and breath in steam with added medicinal herbs. He described the treatment in a local newspaper as:
‘…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.’
Mahomed’s Baths could be considered one of the first spa experiences. It was such a successful enterprise that many other indoor baths started to pop up in Brighton. Mahomed’s success didn’t go unnoticed, and he was appointed shampooing surgeon to kings George IV and William IV. He treated both kings in the nearby Royal Pavilion.
Louise Peskett, tour guide and researcher
A selection of items from our collections relating to Sake Dean Mahomed. Hi-res images of these can be downloaded for free from our Digital Media Bank.
This post was originally written as the story for a prototype audio guide to Brighton Museum. Although not yet released, you can view work in progress at go.brightonmuseums.org.uk