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Sake Dean Mohamed, the Royal Shampooer of Britain

Ravi Rajan is a software program director working in India. He writes articles on management and entrepreneurship with a twist of history.

A Man of Many Firsts

An author, soldier, immigrant, and entrepreneur, Sake Dean Mahomed was a man of many firsts.

  • He opened London’s first-ever Indian Restaurant, the Hindustani Coffee House in George Street, in Central London, heralding the acceptance of ‘curry houses’ throughout Europe.
  • He wrote the first-ever book written and published in English by an Indian writer. The book, The Travels of Dean Mahomet, was an autobiographical account of his life adventures, recounting his time in the Indian military.
  • Lastly, Dean Mahomed is widely credited as the person who brought the tradition of Indian massage, or 'champooing,' to Great Britain. The term soon transformed into ‘shampooing.’ His elite patrons included the monarchs George IV and William IV, earning him the ‘shampooer of kings.’

Yes, shampooing. Have you ever wondered as you take a coin-sized pellet of slippery shampoo and cleanse your scalp with its rich lather, ‘who was the first person who came out with this concept of shampooing?'

It is such a trivial, ubiquitous thing we take for granted. But it is essential. Well, the answer is Sake Dean Mohamed, an Indian who propagated the practice of shampooing from the Indian mainland to all over the West.

The word ‘shampooing’ is derived from the Hindi word ‘champu,’ which evolved from the Sanskrit word chapyathi, which essentially translates ‘to massage or press.’ The practice of champu in India goes back to 2000 BC, when physicians used to pound concoctions of various herbs like boiled soapberries, gooseberries, hibiscus, acacia, jasmine, and several other extracts from flowers into pastes that would be used to cleanse the tresses.

Sake Dean Mohamed took this ancient Indian concept. He opened a luxury spa in Brighton, England, where he offered Eastern health treatments like herbal steam baths and therapeutic, oil-based head massages to his British clientele. This business was an immediate success, and Dean Mahomed became known as the ‘shampooing surgeon of Brighton.’

In 2019, Google celebrated this great entrepreneur’s 260th birth anniversary by creating a doodle in his honor.

Sake Dean Mohamed Opens the First Indian Restaurant in London

Sake Mohamed was born in 1759 in Patna, then part of the Bengal Presidency in British India, to a well-known upper-class family. After a brief stint in the army, he moved to Cork, Ireland. There he married Jane Daly, a local Irish girl, and moved to London, England, at the turn of the 19th century.

London was where Sake Mohamed’s entrepreneurial dreams started to flourish when he started the first Indian restaurant in London, Hindoostane Coffee House, at 25. He described the restaurant ‘as a place replete with the flavors of India where they may enjoy the Hookah, with real Chilm tobacco, and Indian dishes, in the highest perfection . . . to be unequaled to any curries ever made in England.’

Although the restaurant had good reviews, that did not translate to revenue, and he ultimately had to file for bankruptcy.

He Starts Mahomed’s Baths

Undeterred by his failure, He packed his bags again and moved to Brighton with his wife and kids, where he set up his most successful venture – Mahomed’s Baths. Here is where Mohamed offered the traditional Indian Champissage, also called ‘Indian Medicated Vapour Bath,’ to patrons. His unique selling point for advertising was simple; ‘you will not get these shampooing anywhere except in India.’

As his clientele metamorphosed into a more elite crowd, Mohamed’s grew in leaps and bounds, and soon, he was the ‘Royal ‘Shampooing Surgeon’ for King George IV and King William IV. Hospitals and doctors now started referring his shampooing treatments.

He further consolidated his authority by writing a best seller book ‘Cases Cured by Sake Dean Mahomed, Shampooing Surgeon, and Inventor of the Indian Medicated Vapour and Sea-Water Baths.’ He was unstoppable as his fame spread across Europe.

He started expanding his baths, and soon his baths became an exquisite affair with separate baths on different floors for ladies and gentlemen. While they waited their turn, clients could browse through newspapers and journals in beautiful reading rooms. There was also a ‘sunroom’ for the patrons to soak up the sun if they so desired.

The ‘shampooer of kings’ became the first Indian celebrity to be adored by the West.

Mohamed Was Forgotten

Despite his success, competitors and imitators sprouted up all over England. As Mohamed later wrote:

“Several pretenders have since my establishment has formed, entered the field in opposition to me who profess to know the art. Yet I am sure their ignorance must appear manifest to the world. It is a pity the public should be deluded by mere pretenders who bring into disrepute by their bungling stupidity the legitimate practice of most beneficial discovery.”

However, times were changing rapidly, and soon, Mohamed’s golden days were behind him as the decadence and extravagance of the Georgian era ended. People gradually stopped going to bathhouses as shampooing evolved to what we know today; a portable bottle giving a soapy substance to lather and rid our hair of dirt.

The trailblazing entrepreneur lived the rest of his life in relative obscurity until he died in 1851. It was not until 2005 that Mohamed’s achievements as an entrepreneur and notable immigrant to the U.K. were honored with a plaque near the former location of the Hindustani Coffee House.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ravi Rajan