Sake Dean Mahomed by William Maddocks

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    Sake Dean Mahomed,    by William Maddocks, published by  J. Cordwell,    published June 1822,    NPG D46405,    © National Portrait Gallery, London
Sake Dean Mahomed, writer, businessman and ‘shampooing surgeon’, who opened the first Indian restaurant in Britain.
Sake Dean Mahomed
by William Maddocks, published by J. Cordwell
stipple engraving, published June 1822
6 in. x 4 3/4 in. (151 mm x 122 mm) plate size; 8 1/2 in. x 5 1/4 in. (215 mm x 133 mm) paper size
NPG D46405
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Sake Dean Mahomed (1759–1851) was a traveller, writer and businessman. He built important cultural connections between India and Britain in the early 1800s.

Mahomed was the first Indian person to publish a book in English and opened the first Indian restaurant in Britain. He introduced bathing, massage and ‘shampooing’ techniques as a treatment for muscular problems, becoming personal ‘shampooing surgeon’ to both King George IV and King William IV. 

Analysing the portrait

  • View larger image
    Sake Dean Mahomed,    by William Maddocks, published by  J. Cordwell,    published June 1822,    NPG D46405,    © National Portrait Gallery, London
Sake Dean Mahomed, by William Maddocks, published by J. Cordwell, published June 1822

Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a whole minute. What can you see?

    • Mahomed is wearing a white shirt with a high collar and a dark coat. He has a cravat (a silk scarf) tied around his neck.
    • These were fashionable clothes for an English gentleman at this time (early 1800s). He is not wearing any clothes that connect him to India, where he was born and grew up. 
    • His portrait presents him as a respectable and successful English businessman.  
    • He is looking directly at us, the viewer, holding our Gaze The relationship of looking between sitter, artist and viewer. and inviting us in.
    • His expression appears calm and self-assured. The slight smile on his lips perhaps gives us an impression of kindness.
    • The text reads ‘S.D. Mahomed’, followed by ‘Shampooing Surgeon’ and ‘Brighton’.
    • This tells us his name, his profession and where he lived. Mahomed had a successful business in Brighton, treating people with muscular problems using traditional Indian techniques.
    • The next line reads ‘Published June 1822, by J. Cordwell, at his Repository, 20 Great East St, Brighton’.
    • This tells us Mahomed was about 63 years old when the portrait was made. He appears younger than this, and in good health – a man who has benefitted from his own treatments perhaps?
I had to struggle with doubts and objections raised and circulated against my Bath [his baths in Brighton] … Fortunately, however, I have lived to see [it] survive.
S.D. Mahomed, 1826

Who was Sake Dean Mahomed?

  • Sake Dean Mahomed was born in India, in 1759. At this time, the British East India Company An English company started in 1600 to develop trade in the East Indies that stopped trading in the 1870s. was expanding its control over areas of India.
  • He 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. Here Mahomed became the first Indian person to write and publish a book in English: The Travels of Dean Mahomet, published in 1794. 
  • In 1807 Mahomed and his family moved to London. Here he is said to have introduced ‘champi’, an Indian massage treatment which Mahomed called ‘shampooing’. It became popular with wealthy clients looking to improve their health.
  • In 1810 he opened the ‘Hindostanee Coffee House’. This was the first Indian restaurant in Britain.
  • The restaurant was not successful and, in 1814, Mahomed and his family moved to Brighton. The town had become popular for its ‘seawater cure’ which promised a wide range of health benefits. King George IV had made it particularly fashionable by building a palace there called the Royal Pavilion.
  • Mahomed set up ‘Mahomed’s Baths’, an early version of what we might think of as a spa today. He treated patients suffering from muscular problems with warmed seawater, steaming ‘vapour’ baths of Indian herbs and oils, and champi.
  • These treatments were very successful. Mahomed became famous and patients flocked to his baths to try them.
  • In 1822, Mahomed became King George IV’s personal ‘shampooing surgeon’. He stayed in this post when George’s brother William IV became king in 1830.

Why is this portrait significant?

  • This is a portrait of one of the first South Asian professionals in Britain.
  • It shows a successful businessman who provided services to some of the most wealthy and influential people in British society. These ‘Indian’ services would have been seen as Exotic Something exciting and unusual because it seems to be connected with foreign countries. , making them attractive to the British market.
  • Portraits from the 1800s of successful Indian people in Britain are rare. This was a time when Britain was building its Empire A group of countries or states that are controlled by one leader or government. , taking more control over India and other areas of the world. British portraits often reflected racist attitudes of the time, showing Indian people as inferior to British people. This is not the case with Mahomed’s portrait.
  • This portrait was published the same year George IV made Mahomed his personal ‘Shampooing Surgeon’. Mahomed had already become famous and this royal appointment also showed Mahomed was highly respected and successful. People would have wanted to see his portrait.  

Questions

  1. Why do you think Sake Dean Mahomed’s treatments were so popular?
  1. How does Mahomed and his portrait challenge racist attitudes towards Indian people in the 1800s?