‘Dr Brighton’ and the Luxurious Vapor Bath

Dean Mahomet, called ‘Dr. Brighton’

‘Dr Brighton’ was the affectionate nickname given to Dean Mahomet, an Indian immigrant who opened the first commercial “shampooing” vapour masseur bath in Brighton.

“Shampooning”, a type of Turkish bath, gave full relief to ailments such as rheumatic and paralytic, gout, stiff joints, old sprains, lame legs, aches and pains in the joints”. Dean Mahomet’s business proved to be so successful that hospitals referred patients to him and he was appointed as shampooing surgeon to both King George IV and William IV.

A teenager in the East India Company’s army

Dean Mahomet was born in 1759 in Patna, Bihar, then part of the Bengal Presidency. His father, an employee of the East India Company, died when the boy was only 10 years old. Dean Mahomet was taken under the wing of Godfrey Evan Baker (then 19), an Irishman from Cork, and Quartermaster of a European regiment in the Bengal Army. Dean Mahomet served in the army of the British East India Company first as camp-follower, was then appointed jemader in charge of a grenadier company, and was finally promoted to subedar, the highest rank Indians could attain in the East India Company’s army.

Travelling throughout India

Godfrey Evan Baker, by now captain, resigned in 1782. He and Dean Mahomet decided to travel in India. They visited Dhaka, then an important manufacturing city famous the production of lavish Muslin fabric, Calcutta and Benares. Travelling was dangerous: they had to master dense jungle and were fighting tigers as well as robbers. Dean Mahomet published their adventures in 1784.

For love

Captain Baker and Dean Mahomet moved to Ireland in 1784. Dean Mahomet stayed with the Baker family, and he began to study English. One of the other students, Jane Daly, caught his eyes. They fell in love. But marriage wasn’t easy. Jane was a Protestant. At that time, it was illegal for Protestants to marry non-Protestants. Therefore, Dean Mahomet converted to Anglicanism. Still, Jane’s family opposed the relationship. The couple eloped to another town to get married in 1786.

In business

In 1807, Dean Mahomet and Jane left Ireland to make a living in London. Dean Mahomet first worked in an establishment offering vapor bath therapy owned by The Honorable Basil Cochrane, who had made a fortune in India. From 1809 to 1812 Mahomet owned a restaurant house at 34 George Street. The ‘Hindostanee Coffee House’ was the first Indian restaurant.

Dean Mahomet’s real success story began when he moved to Brighton. There, the Prince Regent was just about finishing his Indian themed Royal Pavilion, and fashionable society flocked to the city. Dean Mahomet opened a bathhouse in 1821 and offered ‘the Indian Medicated Vapour Bath’ and ‘Shampooing with Indian Oils’. ‘Shampooing’ means therapeutic massage’. The word derives from the Hindi ‘chhampo’, imperative of chhampa, ‘to press’.

Fashionable society in Brighton, around 1806

At first, the public and the medical community dismissed the new Indian oils and herbal treatments as a cure-all for various ailments as bogus. But Dean Mahomet offered free treatment for patients who were from asthma, paralysis and rheumatism – and he was proved right.

Dean and Jane Mahomet’s bathhouse in Brighton

Dr. Brighton’s luxurious bathhouse

Silver cup presented to Dean Mahomet by Princess Poniatowsky

‘Mahomet’s Bath’ was located on the site now occupied by the Queen’s Hotel. It was a luxurious establishment. Ladies and gentlemen had their facilities on separate floors. Each floor featured a reading room, a parlour for the clients while they waited for their treatments, and four bathing rooms. The bathing room were made of marble, and with hot and cold water. There were also bedrooms for overnight accommodation for those who chose a treatment of several days’ duration. Assisted by with two female co-workers, Jane took care for the lady customers, while her husband was in charge of the male customers.

The luxurious bathouse attracted upper class customers and even aristocracy. Kings George IV and William IV patronized Mahomet’s Baths and benefited from the treatments. Dean Mahomet was appointment Shampooing Surgeon to the King, and he was giving a Royal Warrant.

Another royal visitor was Princess Poniatowsky of Poland. She came to Brighton in 1824 specifically to visit Mahomet’s baths, and presented the Mahomets with an engraved silver cup for the successful treatment.

Dean Mahomet’s publications

Dean Mahomet published the following books:

Sources

  • The Brighton Museum, 12A Pavilion Parade, Brighton BN1 1EE, Uk
  • The Travels of Dean Mahomet, edited with an introduction and biographical essay by Michael H. Fisher, Unversity of California Press
  • Dean Mahomet: travel writer, curry entrepreneur and shampooer to the king, History of Ireland, published in 18th–19th – Century History, Issue 5 (Sep/Oct 2007), News, Volume 15
  • Kate Elms: Stories from the Collections: Sake Deen Mahomet, The Keep, 16 October 2015
  • Sake Dan Mahomet (1759 – 1851) First Indian to Publish a Book, Own a Restaurant and Do “Shampooing” in England; In Entrepreneurs, Inventions, People from England on December 29, 2013

 

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