Channel Shore

Channel Shore by Tom Fort

Book: Channel Shore by Tom Fort Read Free Book Online
Authors: Tom Fort
You feel very much on your own out on the rocks, detached by a great spiritual distance from the bustle of the Marina and the roar of the coast road.
    The tide was halfway back in when we called a halt. The walk back to the car, like the ascent of the tunnel steps, seemed very much longer than it had a few hours before. We had agood haul of prawns, and when I got home that evening I boiled my share for a minute or so then peeled and potted them in butter with mace and cayenne pepper. They were highly unctuous and delicious, the butter and spices veiling but not masking the unmistakable taste of the sea.
    *  *  *
    Brighton and the Palace Pier
    The gravestone is close to the north wall of the churchyard of St Nicholas, the parish church of Brighton. It stands on a grassy bank, as upright as Brighton folk remembered the old man himself, both in his character and bearing. The name on the stone, Sake Dean Mohammed, is not quite right, but you can hardly blame the monumental mason, for a dark-skinned person from Hindustan was a rare bird in those days and their names were different from ours, and the man himself had spelled his in various ways.
    The immense age of 101 recorded on the stone is dubious, too. He died in 1851, which would give a birth year of 1750. But in his own account of his life,
The Travels of Dean Mahomet
, he stated clearly: ‘I was born in the year 1759 at Patna, a famous city north of the Ganges . . .’ But was he? In another book, about the methods for which he became famous, Mahomet wrote: ‘I was born in the year 1749 at Patna, the capital of Hindoostan about 290 miles north of Calcutta.’
    There are more riddles here. The inscription also records the death of his wife Jane in 1850 at the age of seventy, which would put her birth year at 1780. Yet by his account, he eloped with her in 1784, which is implausible. According to an American historian, Michael Fisher, who has closely studied the records of Mahomet’s life, the answer could be that he had two wives, both called Jane.
    This much is known. Mahomet trained as a surgeon in Calcutta and was attached to the 27th Regiment of Native Infantry in the Bengal Army. At some point he became the protégé of a Captain Godfrey Baker, an officer of the East India Company from a well-to-do Protestant Anglo-Irish family living in Cork in the west of Ireland. In the 1780s he accompanied Captain Baker from India to Cork, where he formed a strong attachment for an Irish girl, Jane Daly. Against the wishes of her family he married her; they had several children and continued to enjoy the patronage of the Baker family for many years.
    In 1807 Dean Mahomet and his family moved to London where he obtained a position working for one of the richest of the Indian nabobs, the Honourable Basil Cochrane. While amassing a vast fortune in India, Cochrane had becomeinterested in the Indian practice of treating various medical conditions in a steam or vapour bath. The version developed by Cochrane consisted of a transparent chamber fed by steam, with a seat on which the patient would have a strange contraption made of flannel, whalebone and metal strapped to the chest to concentrate more steam. Cochrane had one installed in his mansion in Portman Square, and it is likely that Dean Mahomet worked there, possibly even installed it, and that he added to the treatment various methods of massage using exotic oils.
    He and Cochrane soon went their separate ways, and Dean Mahomet opened his Hindoostane coffee house in George Street, said to be the first in London to offer authentic Indian cuisine. After running into financial difficulties he moved with his family to Brighton, where he set up a therapeutic bathhouse combining the vapour bath with massages using his ‘Indian oils’.
    This time he found the right market. In the 1750s Dr Richard Russell had set up his famous practice on Old Steine, prescribing bathing in sea water and drinking it as a treatment for every ailment

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