University of Edinburgh, Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, Regno Unito
14 Margaret St, Fitzrovia, London W1W, Regno Unito
Kensal Green Cemetery, Harrow Rd, London NW10 5NU, Regno Unito
Dr. James Miranda Steuart Barry (c. 1795 – 25 July 1865) was a military surgeon in the British Army, born in Ireland. He was the first woman doctor in England.
Barry obtained a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh Medical School, then served first in Cape Town, South Africa and subsequently in many parts of the British Empire. Before retirement, Barry had risen to the rank of Inspector General (equivalent to Brigadier General) in charge of military hospitals, the second highest medical office in the British Army. Barry not only improved conditions for wounded soldiers, but also the conditions of the native inhabitants, and performed the first caesarean section in Africa by an Irish surgeon in which both the mother and child survived the operation.
Although Barry's entire adult life was lived as a man, Barry was born Margaret Ann Bulkley and was known as female in childhood. Barry lived as a man in both public and private life, at least in part in order to be accepted as a university student and pursue a career as a surgeon, Barry’s birth sex only becoming known to the public and to military colleagues after death.
In a letter chiding John Bulkley, Barry's older brother, for abandoning legal studies for the military, 19-year-old Barry wrote: "Was I not a girl I would be a Soldier!".
Barry's interest in medicine was probably encouraged by the liberal-minded friends of the late James Barry RA, and just before travelling to Edinburgh to enrol as a medical student in 1809, Barry assumed a male identity. A short stature, slight build, unbroken voice, delicate features and smooth skin led others to suspect that Barry was not a man but a pre-pubescent boy. This identity was maintained through surgical training and recruitment into the British Army which, at officer rank level, did not then require a medical examination.
During Barry's first posting abroad to Cape Town in South Africa, Barry became a close friend of the Governor, Lord Charles Somerset, and his family. It has been suggested that Lord Charles discovered Dr Barry's secret and that the relationship was more than friendship. Their closeness led to rumours and ultimately an accusation briefly appearing on a bridge post in Cape Town on 1 June 1824 saying that the writer had "detected Lord Charles buggering Dr Barry", which led to a court trial and investigation, as homosexuality was at that time strictly illegal. Despite these allegations, if Somerset was aware of Barry's sex, he did not reveal it.
Despite efforts to appear masculine, witness reports comment on Barry's effeminacy and on a somewhat contradictory reputation - Barry had a reputation for being tactless, impatient, argumentative and opinionated, but was also considered to have had a good bedside manner and famous professional skill. Barry's temper and bravado led to a famous pistol duel with Captain Josias Cloete of the 21st Light Dragoons. Barry's aim was better, the bullet striking Cloete's shako military cap and removing its peak, which dissipated its force. During the Crimean War (1854–1856), Barry got into an argument with Florence Nightingale. After Barry's death Nightingale wrote that:
I never had such a blackguard rating in all my life – I who have had more than any woman – than from this Barry sitting on his horse, while I was crossing the Hospital Square with only my cap on in the sun. "He" kept me standing in the midst of quite a crowd of soldiers, Commissariat, servants, camp followers, etc., etc., every one of whom behaved like a gentleman during the scolding I received while "he" behaved like a brute . . . After "he" was dead, I was told that (Barry) was a woman . . . I should say that (Barry) was the most hardened creature I ever met.
Barry would never allow anyone into the room while undressing, and repeated a standing instruction that "in the event of his death, strict precautions should be adopted to prevent any examination of his person" and that the body should be "buried in [the] bed sheets without further inspection", indicating a desire to conceal physical sex both in life and in death. We Are Family, an LGBT magazine, argues that this is strong evidence of Barry's having identified as a transgender man, given that "his wish was to die and be remembered as a man."
Despite protesting the decision, Barry was forcefully retired by the army on 19 July 1859 due to ill health and old age, and was succeeded as inspector general of hospitals by David Dumbreck. After a quiet retirement in London, Barry finally died from dysentery on 25 July 1865. The identity of the woman who discovered the truth of Barry's sex is disputed, but she was probably a charwoman who also laid out the dead. The charwoman, after failing to elicit payment for her services, sought redress in another way; she visited Barry's physician, Major D. R. McKinnon, who had issued the death certificate upon which Barry was identified as male. The woman claimed that Barry's body had been biologically female and had marks suggesting Barry had at one point borne a child. When McKinnon refused to pay her, she took the story to the press, and the situation became public.
After the matter was made public, many people claimed to have "known it all along". The British Army, seeking to suppress the story, sealed all records of Barry for the next 100 years. The historian Isobel Rae gained access to the army records in the 1950s, and concluded that James Barry the painter was indeed Barry's uncle. Barry was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery under the name James Barry and full military rank. It was claimed by several sources that the manservant who always attended Barry returned to Jamaica, but his actual fate is unknown.
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