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LGBT People of History 85 - James Barry

Updated on April 22, 2012
Portrait of James Barry
Portrait of James Barry | Source
James Barry with his manservant, John, and his dog.
James Barry with his manservant, John, and his dog. | Source

James Barry

The life of James Barry is surrounded in mystery. What is definitely known is that he was a surgeon in the British Army.

He was born sometime between1789 and 1799 in Ireland. It is believed that Barry was born Margaret Ann Bulkley and seemed to have ‘become’ a man en route to Edinburgh to attend medical school. He qualified as a doctor in 1812 and moved to London where he passed the ‘Royal College of Surgeons of England’ exams.

He was then commissioned as a ‘Hospital Assistant’ in the British Army and became an ‘Assistant Staff Surgeon’ soon after. It is possible he was at the Battle of Waterloo.

Between 1815 and 1817, he arrived in South Africa where he rapidly rose to the rank of ‘Medical Inspector’. There he performed the first known African Caesarean Section.

During his career he moved around the colonies and was never far from controversy. At heart his desire was for improvement in conditions and this sometimes upset local dignitaries. He was eventually promoted to ‘Principal Medical Officer’ and later became an ‘Inspector-General of Hospitals’ in Canada. Here he fought for improvements to the conditions of soldiers, prisoners and lepers.

He seemed to have been a bit of a quarrelsome character. This was usually in pursuit of the common good as he could not stand to witness suffering of any kind. As a doctor he seemed to have had a pleasant bedside manner. He got upset if anyone criticised his voice, mannerisms or professionalism – as anyone would!

John, his manservant, and his dog were always with him.

When he died of dysentery in 1865, his female anatomy was discovered, but kept secret for 100 years. It is believed that he chose to live as a man so that he could become a surgeon. Some have theorised that James may have been intersex.

Ian and Callum.

With thanks to Wikipedia.


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    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      And shocking, Dexter!


    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 6 years ago from United States

      What an interesting story and life. Wow!

    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      I was utterly shocked when I learned what this person had to do to follow their dream, Marcy. I so agree with you. Thanks for stopping by.


    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      I've heard of this person, I think, and the discovery of the gender issue upon his death. It's a sad testimony to the treatment of women, the attitudes toward gender issues and the attitudes toward gay issues. But what a brave soul - to follow a passion and do whatever was needed to be accepted professionally.

    • calpol25 profile image

      Callum 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (At Home With My Wonderful Partner)

      So very true Ian. :)

    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Absolutely shocking that that had to happen so he could get into the profession he wanted!

      They wasted so much talent in those days, didn't they?


    • calpol25 profile image

      Callum 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (At Home With My Wonderful Partner)

      Absolutely Brilliant Hub Ian

      So sad about his hidden life. x

      Callum x


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