Sake Dean Mahomed (1759 – 1851)
I debated long and hard as to whether Sake should be elevated to our illustrious band of clever bastards, primarily because he didn’t invent anything nor did he come to a sticky ending. But it is indisputable that he made an enormous contribution to British life and for that deserves to be restored to the limelight. After all, two of our favourite pastimes are staying in to wash our hair and going out for a curry.
Until our hero came along, if we Brits washed our hair it was either with water or soap and water – we didn’t have any Head and Shoulders in those days. The rudimentary solutions available to maintain the hygiene of their tresses probably explains why, certainly amongst the upper classes, shaving the head and wearing a powdered wig was a favoured option.
Born in 1759 in the Indian state of Bihar, Sake joined the army of the East India Company at the precocious age of 11 and by the age of twenty-five had found his way to the metropolis and found employment with Basil Cochrane who had made his fortune in the sub-continent. Indians had for a long time used oils known as champi as the accompaniment to a cleansing head massage. After providing a massage service at a steam bath established at Cochrane’s gaff in Portman Square, Sake branched out in 1814, opening the first commercial shampooing – as is our way, we English corrupted the Hindi word champi to shampoo along the way – vapour masseur bath in England in Brighton, on the site of what is now the Queen’s Hotel. Sake added a bit of showmanship to the whole experience by massaging scalps whilst dressed in full Indian garb and making the modest claim that it would give full relief and a cure for everything from gout to sprains. Soon he was scrubbing the heads of the great and the good and was appointed shampooing surgeon to both King George IV and William IV.
Prior to that in 1810 Sake opened the first Indian restaurant in England at 34 George Street near Portman Square – there is a plaque on 102 George Street, the nearest extant building to the site, commemorating the event. The gaff was called the Hindoostanee Coffee House and boasted the Hookah with real Chilm tobacco and Indian dishes “allowed by the greatest epicures to be unequalled to any curries ever made in England”. Unfortunately for Sake, the gastronomic venture ended in financial failure – the curse of the Clever Bastard finally struck!
Despite that temporary set back the importer of Indian culture to Blighty lived to the ripe old age of 92, dying in Brighton where he was buried.
Sake, as the man who brought shampoo and curry to us occidentals, you are a worthy inductee to our Hall of Fame.
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