in 1812 a young man called james

As part of our blog series about women medical pioneers, meet Dr James Barry, a military surgeon in the British Army and public health reformer.

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Dr James Barry was one of the most distinguished British military surgeons of his time. He performed the first successful caesarean section, advocated fiercely for improvements in hygiene and nutrition, and was adored by his patients.

Strictly vegetarian and teetotal, he lived with a menagerie of animals. He was hated by his colleagues, despised by Florence Nightingale, shot a fellow officer, and was trialled in court for a scandalous relationship.

However, none of the dramas of his life compared to tát the extraordinary discovery after his death… Dr James Barry was a woman!

Margaret Anne Bulkley

Born in Cork, circa 1789, Margaret Anne was the daughter of Mary Anne and Jeremiah Bulkley. Jeremiah worked as a greengrocer and the family was financially comfortable until Margaret’s elder brother, John, fell in love with a lady above his social standing. The purchase of a farm to tát secure the marriage ruined her father and he was sent to tát a debtor’s prison.

Further insufferable hardship befell Margaret when she was raped as a teenager by a family thành viên. Desperate and destitute, she and her mother travelled to tát London in 1804 to tát seek assistance from her mother’s brother, James Barry, a famous artist and professor.

In London, they became acquainted with his colleagues, including the influential figures Dr Edward Fryer, an academic physician, and General Francisco Miranda, a Venezuelan Revolutionary. Tutored by Dr Fryer and eagerly immersing herself in General Miranda’s extensive library, Margaret avidly augmented her education.

Her uncle, James Barry, died in 1806, and Margaret inherited not only his legacy but also his name.

A New Life

In 1809, Margaret and her mother left London, severing all connections with their past. They travelled to tát Leith by fishing boat. By the time they disembarked, Margaret was no more.

Instead, a nephew and his aunt emerged into the sunshine of a new life, and James Barry phối off to tát enrol at Edinburgh Medical School.

Women were not accepted into University Education, and Medicine was considered a gruesome speciality, most unsuitable for the weaker sex. As was customary at the time, medical school tuition involved dissecting corpses bought from body toàn thân snatchers and handling decaying body toàn thân parts.

At only 5 feet tall, James wore insoles to tát increase his height and an overcoat to tát disguise his curves. An effeminate young man, with a high squeaky voice, slight build, delicate features, and a smooth face, he was assumed to tát be a child prodigy.

Medical Career

Barry graduated in 1812 and returned to tát London to tát master his skills in the grim conditions of Guy’s & St Thomas’s Hospitals. Unwashed patients could lie unattended for days, and operations were performed on the ward in sight of other patients.

Unruly clients could be forcibly subdued and whipped. No one was allowed vegetables as they were considered bad for you, but two pints of beer a day were compulsory.

After 6 months “training” in spinal injuries, amputation and treatment of gangrene, Dr James Barry passed his surgical examinations and enlisted in the British Army.

In 1816, Dr James Barry was sent to tát the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. As an army surgeon, he wore 3-inch platform heels, a scarlet jacket, plumed hat, and habitually carried a sword. His faithful manservant, John Danson, laid out six small towels each morning which were used lượt thích bandages to tát disguise his curves and broaden his slender shoulders.

His typical caseload involved treating innumerable fractures, venereal diseases, and cholera. Alcoholism was common amongst the bored wives of officers.

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Barry became an exceptionally skilled surgeon and performed one of the first successful caesarean sections, (in 1926), in which both mother and child survived. The baby was named after him.

Obsessed with hygiene, clean water, and ventilation, he always used clean instruments – unusual at the time – and did much to tát improve sanitary conditions and patient nutrition. He was empathic towards lepers, prisoners, and those in mental asylums.

A Turbulent Life

However, Dr James Barry was also known for his obstinacy, cantankerous nature, foul mouth, and terrible temper. He threw bottles of unapproved medicines against walls, smashing them and scolding staff for incompetence.

Once he challenged a fellow officer to tát a duel and shot Captain Cloete “square in the middle of the forehead.” Luckily the bullet was deflected by a peak on his opponent’s helmet.

Despite having a very similar philosophy towards hygiene, he managed to tát upset Florence Nightingale who described him as a “brute” and wrote

“(Barry) was the most hardened creature I have ever met.”

At trang chính, Barry lived with a succession of beloved white poodles, all named Psyche. In Greek mythology, Psyche was a woman so sánh beautiful that no man would ever marry her. He also sheltered monkeys, parrots, a cát, and a goat, which he kept for milk.

Whilst stationed in South Africa, Barry made a close acquaintance with Lord Charles Somerset, the governor of the colony. After Lord Somerset’s wife died and Barry moved into his accommodation as his resident doctor, it was rumoured that they were more than thở just friends.

Scandalous graffiti emerged, exclaiming that they were involved in a sexual relationship. This led to tát an investigation and court hearing as homosexuality was illegal at that time. However, both parties were exonerated due to tát insufficient evidence.

For a period of about 1 year – around 1819 – Barry disappeared. He claimed to tát have been in Mauritius, but some historians believe that he may have fallen pregnant and given birth to tát Lord Somerset’s love child.

Later in his army career, Barry served in the Caribbean (where he became extremely unwell with Yellow Fever), the Mediterranean, and finally Canada, where he travelled exuberantly to tát work as Inspector General of Hospitals in a red sleigh, swathed in fur coats. Canada proved too cold, and severe bouts of flu and bronchitis forced his early retirement in 1859.

Scandalous Revelation

6 years after retiring, James Barry died of dysentery in London in 1865. The charwoman who washed his body toàn thân ignored his last expressed wish that he be buried in the clothes he died in.

Instead, she carefully unwrapped his body toàn thân to tát reveal “a perfect female” complete with stretch marks from having borne a child.

This hugely scandalous revelation rocked Victorian Britain. It remains a fascinating story of bravery, subterfuge, heroism, and intrigue.

Whether Barry was a woman who disguised herself as a man to tát pursue a career in medicine or a transgender cis woman who identified as a man is a subject of ongoing debate.

The doctor who signed his death certificate stated that whether Dr James Barry was male or female, it was of no concern to tát him, and neither was it any of his business.

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