Friday, July 27, 2012

Anniversary of death of James Barry - or of Margaret Ann Bulkley?

Dr James Barry with dog, Psyche,
and manservant John.
Dr James Barry died on 26 July 1865. Some sources give the date of death as 25 July, adding yet another small mystery to this eminently mysterious individual. Barry lived as a man - a military surgeon serving in India and South Africa - but is believed to have been a woman, possibly named Margaret Ann Bulkley. 

It was in all likelihood because of the social restraints of the time that James Barry chose to appear to the world as male: a woman would not have been able to attend university nor to become a surgeon.

Barry is credited with having performed the first caesarian section by a British doctor in Africa (at the Cape); both mother and child survived. The baby boy was christened James Barry Munnik.

A diligent and forward-thinking doctor, he fought for better conditions and more effective medical care for British troops. He was instrumental in improving the water supply during his time in Cape Town. Later postings included Mauritius, Trinidad, Tobago and St Helena, and he also served in Malta, Corfu, the Crimea, Jamaica and Canada. He rose to Inspector General of Army Hospitals but was frequently in opposition to the authorities and consequently his career suffered ups and downs. 

After his death it was established that he was female, though many claimed to have suspected this during his lifetime. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery under the name James Barry.

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