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Travelers and Traveler's Accounts in World History, Part 1


Early Asian Travelers to the West: Indians in Britain, c.1600–c.1850

Michael H. Fisher


     People from India have long been moving around the Indian Ocean region and the rest of Asia, but European colonialism created new opportunities as well as challenges by directly linking India with the West. After European ships first sailed around Africa and reached South Asia, they provided a new transoceanic passageway for many diverse kinds of Indian travelers. Most Indians who sailed to the West went to Britain, starting around 1600. During the first 250 years, some 20-40,000 Indian men and women of all social classes made this voyage. Some settled, usually marrying into British society; others returned with their personal accounts of the West that they recounted to their relatives, friends, and acquaintances.1

     Not until the mid-eighteenth century, however, did elite Indians begin to write extensively about their travels there; by the end of that century four authors had done so. Each author selected the language in which he wrote according to his intended audience. The first three of these surviving first-person travel narratives were in Persian or Arabic, written by Muslim scribes and scholars, intended mainly for the author's own social circle. All three of these texts remained in manuscript during the author's lifetime, thus having limited circulation and influence; only one of them has ever been published and fully translated.2

     In 1794, however, Sake Dean Mahomet (1759-1851) published his two volume epistolary autobiography: The Travels of Dean Mahomet.3 This was the first book that an Indian-born author had written in English and published. He did so in Cork, Ireland, after his immigration there, largely intended for Anglo-Irish readers. Later, he published books in Brighton, England giving a somewhat modified autobiography to promote his career there as a self-proclaimed surgeon and massage therapist.4 Indeed, during his tumultuous life, Dean Mahomet traveled widely, participating sequentially in three social worlds. His writings and self-sponsored images reveal his own cultural passages and self-representations in each and also the larger social and political contexts as Britain created its empire in Asia.

British imperial rule in late eighteenth century North India

     Dean Mahomet's immediate family experienced Mughal imperial decline and the early rise of the English East India Company. He opens his autobiography by asserting that his family "descended from the same race as the Nabobs of Moorshadabad [Murshidabad]."5 As the Mughal empire fragmented over the eighteenth century, various imperial governors had effectively broken away and made themselves virtually independent rulers; Murshidabad was the capital of the hereditary Nawabs (governors) of Bengal and Bihar, India's richest regions. By proclaiming this ancestry, Dean Mahomet was thus locating his own family high in the Muslim service elite which had ruled most of India for centuries, combining martial prowess with Persianate literary and administrative expertise.

     As Mughal power faded, however, the English East India Company's armies sequentially conquered each of India' regional states, starting with Bengal in 1757, just two years before Dean Mahomet's birth. Many of the traditional elite, including Dean Mahomet's father, perforce transferred their service to the British, becoming a subaltern officer commanding Indian soldiers (sepoys) who enforced British tax collection and rule. During the widespread famine of 1769 in the region, when a third of the people starved, many landholders violently resisted such revenue demands; Dean Mahomet's father died in an affray with one of them. Recognizing his service, the British appointed his sixteen years old son, Dean Mahomet's elder brother, to their late father's rank. Many other established Indian families also began to make serving the British their way of life.

Figure 1
  Figure 1: "A Native Officer (1.); A Seapoy or private Soldier (2.), in the Company's Service, on the Bengal Establishment" from Dean Mahomet, Travels, Letter XVI  

     Still only eleven years old, Dean Mahomet himself aspired to join the East India Company's Bengal army as well. Each sight of the British officers passing by their home in Patna "excited the ambition I already had of entering on a military life."6 Despite his widowed mother's pleadings, he left home to live in the East India Company army cantonment nearby as a camp follower to a young Anglo-Irish officer, Ensign Godfrey Evan Baker (d. 1786).

     After six months' separation, his mother came to the military camp to appeal to her son to return home with her: "I was extremely affected at her presence; yet … I told her---I would stay in the camp; her disappointment smote my soul---she stood silent---yet I could perceive some tears succeed each other, stealing down her cheeks---my heart was wrung---at length, seeing my resolution fixed as fate, she dragged herself away, and returned home in a state of mind beyond my power to describe."7 Next, she sent her elder son, offing the substantial sum of 400 Rupees to Baker if he would return Dean Mahomet home. Instead, Baker provided this same amount for Dean Mahomet to give to his mother in lieu. But "I could not, with all my persuasion, prevail on her to receive them, until I told her she should never see me again, if she refused this generous donation. Thus, by working on her fears, I, at length, gained my point, and assured her that I would embrace every opportunity of coming to see her: after taking my leave of her, I returned . . . to the camp."8 This emotional parting from his mother marked Dean Mahomet, who recalled it so powerfully a quarter century later.

     The rest of Dean Mahomet's book richly describes his fifteen years of travels with the East India Company's Bengal army as it marched hundreds of miles up and down the Ganges plain conquering various Indian regional rulers and resistant local communities. During the period 1757-1857, the largely-Indian manned East India Company's armies conquered all of India, bringing a million square miles under direct British rule and another half million square miles under its indirect rule. By 1857, about a quarter million Indians were serving in the East India Company's armies, all volunteers.

     Under Baker's patronage, Dean Mahomet rose to the posts of Market Master and then Subedar [Indian lieutenant]. But, in 1784, Dean Mahomet left India and the East India Company's service to accompany Baker back to Cork, where Baker's family was prominent. "Captain Baker disclosed his intentions of going to Europe: having a desire of seeing that part of the world, and convinced that I should suffer much uneasiness of mind, in the absence of my best friend, I resigned my commission of Subidar, in order to accompany him."9 This marked his transition to his second social world.

British colonial India to British colonial Ireland

     While Dean Mahomet's own first book ends with his arrival in Britain, historical research reconstructs his subsequent life in Ireland. Settling in Cork under the Baker family's patronage, he studied to master the English language and British culture. Two years after his arrival, he eloped with an Anglo-Irish gentry-woman, Jane Daly (1761-1844). They evidently prospered and had children, all raised as Anglicans. Their marriage legally required Dean Mahomet to attest to his unmarried status and his conversion to the Anglican Church, even if just nominally. His eclectic attitudes toward religions generally, as well as his cultural identification as a Muslim Indian, come out clearly in his autobiographies.

     To demonstrate his standing as a man of letters, Dean Mahomet, at age 35, wrote and published his two-volume autobiographical travel narrative: Travels of Dean Mahomet, A Native of Patna in Bengal, Through Several Parts of India, While in the Service of The Honorable The East India Company, Written by Himself, In a Series of Letters to a Friend (Cork: The Author, 1794). He obtained the patronage of 320 elite Anglo-Irish and Irish subscribers, illustrating his standing in the community and defraying his costs. In his frontispiece, Dean Mahomet had himself portrayed not in Oriental attire but rather as a British gentleman. Nonetheless, his dark complexion is clearly evident. Thus, he did not disguise his biological origins but he did show himself to be Anglicized, in this image and in his book.

Figure 2
  Figure 2: "Dean Mahomet, an East Indian" from Dean Mahomet, Travels, Frontispiece  

     Several other African and Asian writers were also beginning at this time to publish autobiographical travel narratives in English, thus countering widespread White European and American belief that non-whites were incapable of producing such literature. One of the most famous was Olaudah Equiano (1745-97) who published in 1791 The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written by Himself. Less famously, a Christian Armenian born in Iran but raised in Calcutta, Joseph Emin (1726-1809), wrote and published in 1792 The Life and Adventures of Joseph Emin, An Armenian, Written in English by Himself.10 Like these authors, Dean Mahomet clearly identified himself with his book, also including in his book's title "Written by Himself" to dispel any possible doubts about his authorship. This phrase also normatively appeared in the English genre of travel literature to indicate the veracity of the narrative. Thus, he was also asserting that he was eye-witness to the events in the narrative: his identity authenticated the book, as well as the reverse.

     Scholars debate the degree that the spreading use of the "modern" genre of autobiography is exclusively or primarily the result of European Enlightenment emphasis on the "sovereign self" as autonomous and self-reflective.11 Certainly, there are examples in other societies of memoirs and first-person life narratives. This became a significant form in seventeenth century China and there are earlier individual examples from Japan and pre-colonial India as well.12 But it is clear that the earliest Asian and African writers of autobiographies in English sought to adopt this genre based on English authors they read. Further, like Dean Mahomet, they aspired to establish themselves as literary figures and cultivated gentlemen among British readers. Thus, while he may have known about the Persian and Arabic genre of Rihla, first-person travel accounts, he chose rather to use the largely British genre valued by the people he wished to impress and the model books he sought to emulate.

     In addition, book printing and publishing did not become widespread in India until the late nineteenth century, although the technology of the press with moveable type had been available in India since the seventeenth century. Public printed newspapers emerged in British India in the late eighteenth century, with both British and India proprietors. However, the idea of writing about one's own life as an individual and then printing, publishing, and selling it to an anonymous mass or even widespread audience, developed in Europe long before it did in India. Nonetheless, we should not privilege this particular liberal-humanist definition of autobiography to the exclusion of other forms. Rather, we should study how Dean Mahomet and other early non-European practitioners of it adapted the model for their own purposes and in their own ways.

     Throughout his book, Dean Mahomet developed a central theme about the fundamental differences between Indian and European cultures, and his own point of origin within the former. In many ways, these values reflected much late eighteenth century European thought about the distinction between nature and art, which Dean Mahomet either internalized himself or else adopted in Ireland for his Anglophone readers. We cannot know how much his wife or friends in Cork influenced his writing since he does not acknowledge any such assistance.

     Overall, he characterized European society as artful: epitomized by "cultivated genius": sophisticated, highly refined philosophers and polished litterateurs.13 But the sophistication of Europeans led some of them not only to "boasting" but also to cynicism toward India's more sincere religious faiths. He illustrated this with the incident of a bigoted Christian European, contemptuously urinating on the grave of the revered saint of Pirpahar, north India:

a [British] Lieutenant of Artillery, who came hither to indulge an idle curiosity, and ridicule those who paid such respect to the memory of their supposed holy man, who had been deposited here. He imputed their zeal to the force of prejudice and superstition, and turned it into such contempt , that he made water on the very tomb that was by them held sacred: but shortly after, as if he had been arrested by some invisible hand, for his presumption, having rode but a few paces from the tomb, he was thrown from his horse to the ground, where he lay some time speechless; and . . . expired. Here is an awful lesson to those who, through a narrowness of judgment and confined speculation, are too apt to profane the piety of their fellow-creatures, merely for a difference in their modes of worship.14

We can see this anecdote as showing a deceased Indian saint's power to strike a European dead. We can only speculate about the response of Dean Mahomet's patrons to his inclusion of this incident.

     The specific point Dean Mahomet makes here, and consistently elsewhere, is the contrast between the scoffing skepticism found among some overly-urbane Europeans versus the sincere reverence for all sacred beings that epitomized the best Indians. For him, the essence of Indian society revealed itself through its holy men and religious ascetics. While he provided great detail about various of these seers and renouncers, he never identified them by religious community, sect, or name (although the place name, "Saint's Hill," suggests that this was a Muslim Sufi). Rather, they appeared as variations on an Indian type, with superficial differences but an essentially identical message of serene detachment. He asserted that Europeans often failed to get past differences of dogma and practice to understand this inner universal core.

     Throughout his book, Indians (including himself) were essentially, in his words, "ingenuous" and filled with "sincerity." Their very homeland was Edenic, lush, and innocent, despite its heat:

[We] found it exceedingly pleasant to travel along the roads shaded with the spreading branches of fruit-bearing trees, bending under their luscious burthens of bannas, mangoes, and tamarinds. Beneath the trees, were many cool springs and wells of the finest water in the universe, with which the whole country of Indostan abounds: a striking instance of the wisdom of Providence, that tempers "the bleak wind to the shorn lamb," and the scorching heat of the torrid zone to the way-worn traveller.15

To understand Dean Mahomed's approach to this genre, we can compare his work with contemporary travel narratives about India written by Europeans. One European travel account comparable to his Travels in time period and geographical setting was William Hodges' 1793 Travels. Hodges, an artist who had earlier gone with Captain Cook to the South Pacific, contemporaneously covered much the same territory as Dean Mahomet but he presented a distinctly different picture of India.16 For example, Hodges and Dean Mahomet both described the island of Jangerah at about the same date. Hodges wrote: "The situation this holy father has chosen is certainly proof of his taste and of his judgement; for, from the top, he has a most extensive prospect of the country and river; and in the summer heats it must be cooler than any situation in its neighborhood."17 Hodge's artistic description differed from Dean Mahomed's more human-centered one:

a small antique house, built on a rock in the middle of an island, in the Ganges, attracted our notice . . . When we advanced towards the hermitage, which, as an object of curiosity, is much frequented by travellers, the Faquir or Hermit, who held his residence here for many years, came out to meet us: he wore a long robe of saffron colour muslin down to his ancles, with long loose sleeves, and on his head a small mitre of white muslin, his appearance was venerable from a beard that descended to his breast; and though the hand of time conferred some snowy honours on his head, that negligently flowed down his shoulders a considerable length, yet in his countenance you might read, that health and chearfulness were his companions: he approached us with a look of inconceivable complacency tempered with an apparent serenity of mind . . . he seemed to turn his thoughts a little higher; for with eyes now and then raised towards Heaven, he continued to count a long bead that was suspended from his wrist; and he had another girt about his waist.18

Hodges wrote nothing about the sacredness or personal appearance of the man he called a "Hindoo monk." But Dean Mahomet mainly focused on these personal attributes without specifying any religious denomination; indeed, faqir often implies Muslim holy man but saffron robes imply a Hindu. Likewise, artists Thomas and William Daniell presented a picture of this same island in their illustrated Antiquities of India (London: The Authors, 1799), an image similar to Hodges' but different from Dean Mahomet's.19

     But Dean Mahomet's India also contained wilder, less constrained people, particularly those who opposed the East India Company's army that he served from ages eleven to twenty-five. He recounted repeatedly how the Company's Army had to ward off unwarranted attacks by "merciless savages" and "sanguinary and rapacious . . . lawless aggressors."20 Such outlaws even tortured helpless animals. Nevertheless, even such primitive and unrestrained people showed simple humane generosity on occasion.

     While Dean Mahomet presented the bulk of his Travels from his perspective as an Indian member of the Company's army, he did occasionally adopt the viewpoint of the Anglo-Irish gentry and aristocracy who comprised the book's intended audience. In one example of this, he described an Indian palanquin being borne "much in the same manner as our sedan chairs are carried in this country [Ireland]."21 In another instance, he wrote that a ghat in Benares was named "Benegaut; as if we said, Sullivan's-quay, or French's-slip"--two wharves on the Cork riverfront.22 In contrast, he only referred to the Catholic tenant farmers in Ireland from much the same distance as he did the villagers of India.

     Dean Mahomet chose to link himself with his Anglo-Irish readers through his use of the epistolary form fashionable for fiction and travel literature in his day. England had produced some 800 epistolary novels by 1790; this form was especially strong in the 1750-1800 period, when approximately one out of every six works of fiction used it.23 As did most of his contemporary authors of epistolary travel narratives, he used the fiction of pretending to have written his letters contemporaneously with the events they described. Unlike many other travel works of his day, however, he did not back-date these letters or devise a fictive dialogue with an imaginary correspondent. Although Dean Mahomet began each of the thirty-eight letters in his book with "Dear Sir," he did not seem to have any single real or imagined person as his intended audience throughout his book. While he occasionally responded to the expectations he imputed to his reader, he never even pretended to dialogue with his fictional correspondent. In part, the epistolary style enabled an author to write more intimately and confidently, to notionally address an (unnamed) friend, rather than a faceless world of unknown readers.

     When Dean Mahomet determined to write a travel narrative about India, he evidently studied earlier travel narratives and used parts of them, including Jemima Kindersley's 1777 Letters and--most particularly--John Henry Grose's Voyage to the East Indies published in four editions between 1757 and 1772.24 Kindersley and Grose present unsympathetic pictures of India and Indians. Grose's work found a popular audience but high literary critics condemned his egotistic violation the conventions of the genre. Fashionable journals dismissed Grose as too limited in experience, base in character, and opinionated to produce fine literature or ethnography: "a young man who does not pretend to have seen more than one or two sea-ports of an extensive continent . . . his remarks are often trite or frivolous."25 Nonetheless, Dean Mahomet found aspects of their work worthy of emulation, since he paraphrased or directly lifted material from them without attribution (a practice today termed plagiarism). While Dean Mahomet took about seven percent of his book from Grose and Kindersley, he significantly reconstructed their intent.

     Based on a careful analysis of these works, we can conclude that Dean Mahomet practiced selective appropriation for two reasons. First, he used Grose's phrases for descriptions of topics which Dean Mahomet did not know, most notably the cities of Surat and Bombay, and also classical quotations from Seneca and Martial. These totaled about a quarter of his borrowings from Grose. Second, Dean Mahomet deliberately took and reformed descriptions and phrases about topics he knew well but apparently felt that Grose or Kindersley had stated more fluently or authoritatively for an Anglophone audience. Such topics included descriptions of Fort William in Calcutta, Allahabad architecture, the diet of Hindus, shampooing, coconut trees, jugglers and snake-charmers, the camel, elephant, and rhinoceros as well as the sections on betel, Indian music and dance, and the Prophet Muhammad and Islam. Most extensively, Dean Mahomet used much of Grose's Glossary as his own "Explanation of Persian and Indian Terms."26 Dean Mahomet obviously knew the English meanings of these Indian terms but evidently wished to rely on Grose's assessment of which terms a European audience would want defined. Of the ninety-seven terms in Dean Mahomet's Glossary, he included only six terms that were unique or substantially different in definition from those of Grose: Bazar, Baudshaw, Baudshawjoddi, Codgi, Jemidar, and Mulna (all words of special interest to Dean Mahomet). He also altered forty-one of Grose's definitions in some way, while fifty he took exactly from Grose. Dean Mahomet deliberately omitted twenty-two of the terms which Grose included, particularly terms not relevant to Travels. We should also keep in mind that such extensive copying from earlier works remained quite common and unobjectionable in the eighteenth century.

     Despite Dean Mahomet's unique perspective and efforts to adapt this English literary genre to his own purposes, his book received little recognition outside of Ireland. While his book was known in London, no literary journals or newspapers reviewed it.27 It remained unstudied and virtually unknown in Britain, Ireland, and India until the late twentieth century.

     But another Indian traveler, Mirza Abu Talib Khan (1752-1806), who happened to meet Dean Mahomet during his own visit to Ireland in 1799, regarded him as a countryman and culturally a fellow Muslim and author. His entire description reads:

Mention of a Muslim named Dean Mahomed

Another person in the house of the aforementioned Captain [William Massey Baker] is named Dean Mahomed. He is from Murshidabad. A brother of Captain [William Massey] Baker raised him from childhood as a member of the family. He brought him to Cork and sent him to a school [maktab] where he learned to read and write English well. Dean Mahomed, after studying, ran off to another city with the daughter, known to be fair and beautiful, of a family of rank of Cork who was studying in the school [madrasa]. He then formally married [nikah] her and returned to Cork. He now has several beautiful children with her. He has a separate house and wealth and he wrote a book containing some account of himself and some about the customs of India [Hind].28

     During his own travels in Britain, Abu Talib did not rigorously limit his behavior by the strictures of Islam, although he took pride in his Muslim cultural heritage. Further, he seemed impressed by Dean Mahomet's English-language book, although Abu Talib himself wrote in Persian and largely followed the rihla genre appreciated by his intended Indian readers. Unlike Abu Talib who returned to India after his British travels, Dean Mahomet clearly assimilated and made a place for himself in local Cork society during his fifteen years there.

British colonial Ireland to colonizing England

     Soon after 1800, Dean Mahomet immigrated to London where he struggled in his forties to create a place for himself in his third social world. He never explained the reasons for this next immigration and, indeed, later omitted his years in Ireland from his autobiographical writings altogether. For a time, Dean Mahomet worked in London as a domestic employee for Basil Cochrane, a wealthy aristocrat recently returned from India. To improve his infamous reputation for corrupt self-enrichment while in India, Cochrane established a charitable steam-bath in his London mansion, with Dean Mahomet providing "shampooing" (derived from champi, Indian-style therapeutic whole-body massage). Commercial London bathhouse keepers soon imitated Dean Mahomet's shampooing method.

     In London, Dean Mahomet's cultural identity as a Muslim distinguished him from his rivals, even as he assimilated into British society. He adopted the honorific "Sake" (Shaikh, "venerable-one") and altered his name from Mahomet to Mahomed, the more conventional spelling in England. But he apparently continued his non-sectarian religious attitude and did not observe Islamic prayer or diet. He evidently married a second time in an Anglican Church, to Jane Jefferys in 1806, again fulfilling the nominal requirement of attesting to his Christianity and his unmarried status. But his first wife seems still to have been alive and some children from his first marriage lived with him and their half-siblings in London. Divorce at that time in England required a virtually unobtainable Act of Parliament so he was legally a bigamist, although there is no evidence that this ever became an issue for him.

     In 1810, at age fifty-one, Dean Mahomet left Cochrane to start The Hindostanee Coffee House. This was the first restaurant in London run by an Indian. Here, he proffered Indian-style dining, including hookas (tobacco water-pipes), bamboo furniture, and curries. Located in a fashionable district, far from the east London docklands where most Indians lived, this restaurant did not solicit them. Rather, it targeted elite Britons who had lived in India and others who wished to savor Indian-style cuisine and ambiance.

Figure 3
  Figure 3: Plaque Commemorating Dean Mahomet's Restaurant, installed near the site in 2005, photograph by the author  

     While his restaurant also attracted epicures and favorable reviews, it proved undercapitalized. Mahomed petitioned for bankruptcy in 1812 and distributed his property among his creditors. He then unsuccessfully sought service as butler or valet.

     Next, he determined to capitalize upon his Indian identity by settling in the burgeoning seaside resort of Brighton, where the ongoing reconstruction by the Prince-Regent (later King George IV) of his Royal Marine Pavilion made oriental exotica fashionable. Finding employment in a bathhouse there in 1814, Mahomed vended Indian-style cosmetics and medicines, including "Indian tooth powder," hair-dye, steam-bath with Indian oils, and shampooing. Gradually, he opened a series of modest but ever more popular bathhouses of his own, all featuring his unique "Indian Medicated Vapour Bath" as well as shampooing at his expert hands (his wife massaging female customers).

     To enhancing his professional reputation, in 1820 he published a book of testimonials: Cases Cured by Sake Deen Mahomed, Shampooing Surgeon, and Inventor of the Indian Medicated Vapour and Sea-Water Bath. During 1820-21, he built a magnificent, purpose-built Mahomed's Baths on Brighton's stylish King's Road, overlooking the sea.

Figure 4
  Figure 4: Advertizement for Mahomed's Baths, Brighton, from Pigot and Co's National Commercial Directory [1826], Advertizements, n.p..  

     Further, he expanded his 1820 book into a medical casebook, Shampooing, or, Benefits Resulting from the Use of the Indian Medicated Vapour Bath with three ever expanding editions: 1822, 1826, 1838. In this book, he had himself represented as extensively Anglicized, and yet still of Indian origin to validate his personal authority as an expert in Indian medical arts.

Figure 5
  Figure 5: S. D. Mahomed, Shampooing Surgeon, Brighton, frontispiece Mahomed, Shampooing  

     While little of what he sold was actually Indian, his generalized image of India gave him a commercial advantage. Hindu elites who might know more about ayurvedic or other Indian medical systems rarely traveled to Europe; indeed, there was a strong social sanction against Brahmins and other high-born Hindus traveling aboard trans-oceanic ships across the Kala Pani, "Black Waters." Hence, he claimed exclusive status as an authentic Indian medical practitioner and a surgeon who had also formally studied Western medicine.

     In Shampooing, he claimed professional credentials through formal medical training and experience as a surgeon for the East India Company. To accommodate those years, he moved his reported birth-date a decade earlier to 1749:

The humble author of these sheets, is a native of India; and was born in the year 1749, at Patna, the capital of Bihar, in Hindoostan, about 290 miles N.W. of Calcutta. I was educated to the profession of, and served in the Company's Service, as a Surgeon, which capacity I afterwards relinquished, and acted in a military character, exclusively for nearly fifteen years. In … the commencement of the year 1784, [I] left the service and came to Europe, where I have resided ever since.29

This reconstructed life history omits his years in Ireland and London, saying he arrived in England nearly fifty years earlier and implying that he had immigrated directly to Brighton.

     Successfully representing himself as the only native Indian expert in England about Indian medical arts, he gained a distinguished and substantial clientele. As he put it: "The herbs and essential oils with which my Baths are impregnated, are brought expressly from India, and undergo a certain process known only to myself, before they are fit for use."30 His professional and social prominence received recognition through appointment by Royal Warrant as "Shampooing Surgeon" to Kings George IV and William IV. He also occasionally dressed in Indian-style attire, or what might appear to Britons as authentically Indian.

Figure 6
  Figure 6: Dean Mahomed in Indian-style Court Robes, print in the author's collection  

     His fashionable success enabled him to open a London branch of his bathhouse, managed by his sons. Some other Indian settlers sought his treatment, including the first Indian Member of the British Parliament, elected in 1841.31 Further, his popularity and patronage by aristocracy and gentry led White competitors to jealous appropriation of his method. But, as he entered his mid-eighties (mid-nineties according to his revised birthdate), he faced financial difficulties and lost Mahomed's Baths, which eventually sold at public auction. The new owners kept his name but not him. He then largely retired until his death in 1851. Within a decade, his proprietary Indian Medicated Bath method became known as the Turkish Bath and his shampooing became, in English, mere hair-wash instead of an exotic therapeutic medical massage.

     Over his lifetime, Dean Mahomet/Mahomed traveled through three worlds, remaking himself in each. He is distinctive among Indian travelers and settlers in Britain for the specifics of his journey, but many of the attitudes and receptions he faced were shared by many other Indians of his day. Fewer Indians settled in Ireland than in England during his lifetime, but tens of thousands of Indians had visited Britain by the time of his death. He wrote and published the first book in English by an Indian, but many other Indians who later traveled to Britain would subsequently write their own autobiographical travel narratives. Further, many of his self-representational strategies as exotic and attractive yet also Anglicized also proved useful to the most successful of them. By considering his life and the ways that he represented himself in each of his three social worlds--in India as it moved from Mughal to British imperial rule, within colonized Ireland, and within England as it created a global empire--we can enrich our understanding of the nature of travel and travelers and their writing as they crossed among cultures.

Michael H. Fisher holds the Robert S. Danforth Chair in History at Oberlin College. He has published widely on various aspects of the interaction between the peoples and polities of India and the expanding British empire, as they occurred in both India and in Britain. His latest published book is a biography of on the first Indian elected to the British Parliament who was also a putative lunatic, The Inordinately Strange Life of Dyce Sombre: Victorian Anglo Indian M.P. and Chancery 'Lunatic' (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010). His earlier published books are: A South Asian History of Britain: Four Centuries of Peoples from the Indian Subcontinent (co-authored with Shompa Lahiri and Shinder Thandi; London: Greenwood Press, 2007);Visions of Mughal India: An Anthology of European Travel Writing (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007); The First Indian Author in English: Dean Mahomed (1759-1851) in India, Ireland, and England (Oxford University Press, 1996); The Travels of Dean Mahomet edited (University of California Press, 1997) and many other monographs. He is currently writing a book on Migration in World History for Oxford University Press (New York). He can be contacted at


1 See Rozina Visram, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002) and Michael H. Fisher, Counterflows to Colonialism: Indian Travellers and Settlers in Britain, 1600-1857 (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2004).

2 The first of these three was Mirza Shaikh Ictisam al-Din (1730-1800), who went to France, England, and Scotland in 1766-68, and then wrote "Shigarf-nama-i Vilayat" ("Wonder-book of England/Europe") in 1784/85. Second, Munshi Ismacil traveled travelled to Britain in 1771-73 and then wrote his brief "Tarikh-i Jadid" ("New History") around 1773. Third, Mir Muhammad Husain ibn Abdul Azim Isfahani went to Britain in 1775-76 and wrote, first in Arabic and later in Persian, his brief "Risalah-i Ahwal-i Mulk-i Farang wa Hindustan" ("Letters/Essays about the Conditions of the Land of Europe and India") soon after his return. Only the first of these three books has been published. It was incompletely translated into Urdu and English as Shigurf Namah-i Velaet, tr. James Edward Alexander [and Munshi Shumsher Khan] (London: Parbury Allen, 1827). For a full translation (via Bengali) see The Wonders of Vilayet, tr. Kaiser Haq (Leeds: Peepal Tree, 2001). For description and analysis see Gulfishan Khan, Indian Muslim Perceptions of the West during the Eighteenth Century (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1998).

3 Dean Mahomet, The Travels of Dean Mahomet: An Eighteenth Century Journey through India, ed. Michael H. Fisher (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

4 Sake Deen Mahomed, Cases Cured by Sake Deen Mahomed, Shampooing Surgeon, and Inventor of the Indian Medicated Vapour and Sea-Water Baths (Brighton: The Author, 1820) and Shampooing, or, Benefits Resulting from the Use of the Indian Medicated Vapour Bath (Brighton: The Author, 1822; 1826; 1838).

5 Mahomet, Travels, Letter 1. Given the variant pagination between the original and the published versions of this text, I will identify direct quotations by the chapter number, which Dean Mahomet called Letters.

6 Ibid., Letter 2.

7 Ibid., Letter 5.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid., Letter 35.

10 Emin Joseph Emin, Life and Adventures, 2nd edn, ed. A. Apcar (Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1918).

11 However dominant this "sovereign self" model became, it was not the only one circulating in Europe, as feminist and subaltern scholars have demonstrated. See Kathryn Hansen, Stages of Life: Indian Theatre Autobiographies (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2011), 300-14.

12 Most notably, Mughal Emperor Babur's sixteenth century Baburnama and Banarsi Das's seventeenth century Ardhakathanaka. Zahir al-Din Babur, Baburnama, tr. Wheeler M. Thackston (Washington: Freer, 1996). Banarasi Das Biholia, Half a Tale, tr. Mukhund Lath (Jaipur: Rajasthan Prakrit Bharati Sansthan, 1981).

13 Mahomet, Travels, Dedication.

14 Ibid., Letter 8.

15 Ibid., Letter 6. See similar passages in Letters 17, 35.

16 See Barbara Maria Stafford, Voyage into Substance: Art, Science, Nature and the Illustrated Travel Account, 1760-1840 (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1984).

17 William Hodges, Travels in India during the Years 1780, 1781, 1782, & 1783 (London: The Author, 1793), 26.

18 Mahomet, Travels, Letter 7.

19 Thomas and William Daniell, Antiquities pl. 9, "W.W. View of the Fakeer's rock" and Oriental Scenery (London: August, 1816), part 5, pl. 9, 10. See Mildred G. Archer, Early Views of India (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980).

20 Mahomet, Travels, Letters 6, 9.

21 Ibid., Letter 6.

22 Ibid., Letter 17.

23 See Percy G. Adams, Travel Literature and the Evolution of the Novel (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1983); Robert Adams Day, Told in Letters (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966); Frank G. Black, "Technique," Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature XV (1933).

24 Jemima Kindersley, Letters from the Island of Teneriffe . . . and the East Indies (London: Norse, 1777); John Henry Grose, Voyage to the East Indies with Observations (London: S. Hooper and A. Morley, 1757; 1766; 1767; 1772).

25 E.g., review of first edition of Grose in Monthly Review 17 (July-December 1757), 301-306.

26 Mahomet, Travels, Letter 16.

27 It is mentioned in Willis' Current Notes (1851), 22-23.

28 My translation from Abu Talib Khan, "Masir Talibi fi Bilad Afranji," Add 8145-47, 3 vols, vol. 1, ff. 97-98, British Library. For an edited translation of the entire book, see: Abu Taleb Khan, Travels of Mirza Abu Taleb Khan, 2 vols, tr. Charles Stewart (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1810; 1814).

29 Mahomed, Shampooing (1832), v-vi, xiii.

30 Mahomed, Shampooing (1822), viii, 17.

31 David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre (1808-51), see Michael H. Fisher, The Inordinately Strange Life of Dyce Sombre: Victorian Anglo Indian M.P. and Chancery 'Lunatic' (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).


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