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date: 04 July 2022

Mahomed, Deen [formerly Deen Mahomet]free

(1759–1851)

Mahomed, Deen [formerly Deen Mahomet]free

(1759–1851)
  • Michael H. Fisher

Deen Mahomed (1759–1851)

by Thomas Mann Baynes

Mahomed, Deen [formerly Deen Mahomet] (1759–1851), shampooing surgeon and restaurateur, was born Deen Mahomet in May 1759, in Patna, Bihar, India, the younger son of an Indian officer in the East India Company's Bengal army. Both parents were Shi'i Muslims claiming descent from Afshar Turk and Arab immigrants to India from Persia in the seventeenth century.

After a traditional Islamic education in Patna, and his father's death fighting recalcitrant landholders in 1769, Mahomet left his mother to attach himself as camp follower to Ensign Godfrey Evan Baker of the Bengal army's 3rd European regiment. Together they marched widely across north India, subduing Indian villagers and regional rulers and blocking anticipated French invasions. Under Baker's patronage in 1781 Mahomet rose to the posts of market master and then jemadar (ensign) of the élite grenadier company of the 2nd battalion, 30th sepoy regiment, 2nd brigade. Mahomet fought skirmishes at Kalpi (April 1781) against Marathas and stormed Patita Fort (13 September 1781), rescuing Governor-General Warren Hastings from Raja Chayt Singh of Benares. Promoted subedar (lieutenant) in this regiment, Mahomet helped crush peasant resistance to British control in the Benares region.

Baker, after his recall in July 1782 for alleged extortion from villagers, resigned his captain's commission. Following Baker, Mahomet also resigned from the Bengal army and emigrated to Ireland. They sailed from Calcutta on the Danish vessel Christiansborg in January 1784, visiting Madras, St Helena, and Dartmouth (November 1784) en route to Cork, Baker's home town. Under Baker's patronage Mahomet studied to perfect his English. In 1786 he eloped with an Anglo-Irish gentlewoman, Jane Daly (b. c.1772). They had an Anglican marriage in Cork and Ross diocese, Mahomet having converted to this denomination. In 1794 he published his two-volume Travels of Dean Mahomet, a native of Patna in Bengal, through several parts of India, while in the service of the Honourable the East India Company written by himself, in a series of letters to a friend, the first book ever written and published in English by an Indian. This epistolary travel narrative recounted the Bengal army's conquest of India, Indian customs and cities, and Mahomet's autobiography. He elaborated his text with Latin quotations (from Seneca and Martial), citations from Goldsmith and Milton, a portrait of himself in European dress, and illustrations of an Indian sepoy and officer and the panoply of an Indian ruler. He secured the patronage of 320 élite British subscribers, testament to his standing as a man of letters.

By 1807 Mahomet had moved to London, accompanied by at least one son, William (c.1797–1833). Slight evidence suggests that his first wife, Jane Daly, may have died and that he married about this time another woman named Jane. Mahomet baptized two children at St Marylebone parish church: Amelia (1808–1894) and Henry Edwin (1810–1823). Mahomet worked for the Hon. Basil Cochrane, recently returned from India and made wealthy as a Madras civil servant and Royal Navy contractor. Cochrane established a charitable steam bath in his 12 Portman Square mansion, with Mahomet providing ‘shampooing’ (Indian therapeutic whole body massage). Other London bath house keepers soon imitated his shampooing method.

In 1810 Mahomet started the Hindostanee Coffee House, 34–5 George Street, Portman Square, proffering Indian cuisine and ambience, including hookahs (tobacco water pipes), bamboo furniture, and curries. He also adopted the honorific ‘sake’ (sheikh, ‘venerable one’) and altered his name from Mahomet to Mahomed. His restaurant attracted epicures but proved undercapitalized. Mahomed petitioned for bankruptcy on 18 March 1812 and distributed his property among his creditors at London's Guildhall on 27 July 1813. He then sought service as butler or valet but subsequently moved to the burgeoning seaside resort of Brighton, where the reconstruction of the prince regent's Royal Marine Pavilion had made oriental exotica fashionable. Finding employment in a bath house attached to the New Steyne Hotel, 11 Devonshire Place, in 1814, Mahomed sold Indian cosmetics and medicines, including Indian tooth powder, hair dye, steam bath with Indian oils, and shampooing. The last two, bolstered by his hyperbolic advertisements, proved most popular. By December 1815 Mahomed had opened his own Battery House Baths, at the foot of the Steyne. Here his daughter Rosanna (1815–1818) died.

Enhancing his reputation in 1820 Mahomed published a book of testimonials: Cases cured by Sake Deen Mahomed, shampooing surgeon, and inventor of the Indian medicated vapour and sea-water bath. Mahomed claimed to be able to cure a range of ills including rheumatism, asthma, and gout. He also identified supporters as well as rivals among orthodox medical practitioners. During 1820–21 he and his silent partner, Thomas Brown, built the magnificent Mahomed's Baths on King's Road, overlooking the sea (later the site of Queen's Hotel); while it was under construction he briefly established a bath house on West Cliff. He also expanded his 1820 book into a medical casebook, Shampooing, or, Benefits Resulting from the Use of the Indian Medicated Vapour Bath (1822, 1826, and 1838). In Shampooing, he revised his medical credentials to claim ten years' training in Calcutta Hospital and—to accommodate those years—adjusted his reported birth date to 1749. His professional and social prominence received recognition through appointment by royal warrant as shampooing surgeon to George IV and William IV. His popularity and patronage by aristocracy and gentry led jealous competitors to appropriate his method. Mahomed opened a London branch of his bath house at 11 St James's Place (1830–36) and then at 7 Little Ryder Street (1838–58); these were managed by his sons Deen (c.1812–c.1836) then Horatio (1816–1873). Another son, Frederick (1818–1888), taught dance, fencing, and gymnastics in Brighton. He was the father of the physician Frederick Henry Horatio Akbar Mahomed (1849–1884).

In 1841, after the death of his partner, Brown, Mahomed's Baths went to public auction. Mahomed himself lacked the capital to buy, but he offered to work as manager for the highest bidder. The first auction failed to meet the reserve price but, with no reserve, an 1843 auction succeeded. Since the new owner, William Furner, did not wish to employ Mahomed, he moved to a small rented house at 2 Black Lion Street, where he lived and attempted to compete with his old establishment. While he continued to advertise his services until 1845, his youngest son, Arthur Ackber (1819–1872), carried on the business under straitened circumstances. Jane Mahomed died on 26 December 1850 of uterine cancer; Mahomed died of 'natural decay' on 24 February 1851 at their son Frederick's home, 32 Grand Parade, Brighton. They were both buried together in St Nicholas's parish church, Brighton. From the 1860s his proprietary Indian medicated bath became the Turkish bath and his shampooing mere hair wash.

Sources

  • Travels of Dean Mahomet: an eighteenth–century journey through India, ed. M. H. Fisher (1997)
  • M. H. Fisher, The first Indian author in English (1996)
  • Abu Taleb Khan, Travels of Mirza Abu Taleb Khan in Asia, Africa, and Europe during the years 1799, 1800, 1801, 1802, and 1803: written by himself, in the Persian language, trans. C. Stewart, 3 (1814)
  • Memoirs of the life of the Right Hon. Warren Hastings, first governor-general of Bengal, ed. G. R. Gleig, 3 vols. (1841), vol. 2
  • R. Visram, Ayahs, lascars and princes: Indians in Britain, 1700–1947 (1986)
  • H. Mahomed, The bath: a concise history of bathing, as practiced by the nations of the ancient and modern world (1843)
  • B. Cochrane, An improvement on the mode of administering the vapour bath (1809)
  • The Times (27 March 1811)
  • The Times (25 March 1812)
  • The Times (4 April 1812)
  • The Times (20 April 1813)
  • The epicure's almanack, or, Calendar of good living (1815)
  • Visitor's books of Mahomed's baths, Brighton Public Reference Library
  • LondG (21–4 March 1812)
  • LondG (2–6 June 1812)
  • LondG (3–7 July 1813)
  • Willis's Current Notes (1851)
  • d. cert.
  • marriage records of the Cork and Ross Diocese
  • memorial, St Nicholas's parish church, Brighton
  • Brighton Guardian (26 Feb 1851)

Archives

  • Brighton Public Reference Library

Likenesses

  • J. Finlay, engraving, 1794 (after Ghaywanimdy?), repro. in M. H. Fisher, ed., Travels of Dean Mahomet
  • W. Maddocks, portrait, 1822
  • W. Maddocks, portrait, 1826
  • T. M. Baynes, portrait, 1830, Brighton Pavilion
  • S. Drummond, portrait, 1840, Brighton
  • T. M. Baynes, lithograph, Wellcome L. [see illus.]

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