Sake Dene Mahomet is remembered by a monment in the enclosed area at the rear of the church. He was the first Indian to write and publish a book in English, opened the first indian restaurant in London and invented the term ‘shampoo’. He also enjoyed the wonderful and unique job title of ‘Shampooing Surgeon to the King’.
When Dean Mahomet’s was eleven, his father was killed in the service of the British army. Young Mahomet was ‘adopted’ by an English Officer – Captain Baker – who sponsored his entry into the Forces.
Mahomet took service in the Bengal Army 3rd European regiment rising to the post of subedar (lieutenant) until 1782, when Captain Baker decided to return to his native Ireland and invited Mahomet to accompany him. They arrived at Cork in 1784.
With the continued support of Baker, Mahomet commenced formal study of English Language and Literature and in 1786 he eloped with fellow student Jane Daly. The couple were shortly married. They continued to live at Cork and in 1793 ‘The Travels of Dean Mahomet’ was published – the first book to be written and published in the english language by an Indian.
In 1807 the Mahomet’s abandoned Cork for London, and in 1809 started the ‘Hindostanee Coffee House’ in Portman Square. The first Indian restaurant in England, it was not a financial success and Mahomet petitioned for bankruptcy in 1812. Moving to Brighton – then as now a welcome home for alternative thinkers, he reinvented himself as a purveyor of mystical and exotic remedies and cosmetics; Indian tooth powder and hair dye.
He soon moved into a more promising line and at the peak of Brighton’s fame for water related therapies, he adapted the practice using a steam bath with Indian oils and called it ‘shampooing’ (from Champo – the Hindi word for ‘head massage) – coining a term still in common use today.
By 1815 Mahomed had opened his own Battery House Baths, at the foot of the Steyne and in 1820 published a book of testimonials: ‘Cases cured by Sake Deen Mahomed, shampooing surgeon, and inventor of the Indian medicated vapour and sea-water bath.’ In it he claimed to be able to cure a range of ills including rheumatism, asthma, and gout. In 1820, he built the magnificent Mahomet’s Baths on King’s Road, overlooking the sea. His professional and social prominence received recognition through appointment by royal warrant as shampooing surgeon to George IV and William IV.
According to his headstone and his later published works, Mahomet was born in 1749 and died at the grand age of 101. However his autobiographical and first published ‘travels’ gives his birth date a decade later at 1759.
A keen self publicist Mahomet made a number of ‘edits’ to his life story. In his later works on ‘shampooing’ he claimed previously unmentioned medical training in India, and it may be that he also awarded himself an extra decade to accommodate this revision… Whatever the truth of it, his achievements during his life mark him out as one of our more extraordinary and notable deceased, whose story opens up a whole and distinct perspective on life in Brighton, Ireland and England at that time.