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Margaret Bulkley was borne in Cork in 1790. According to her biographers, she once told her brother: “Were I not a girl, I would be a soldier!” As it turned out, she did not let her assigned gender hinder her and 19 years old she took the first steps towards fulfilling that ambition, exchanged her skirts for trousers and started studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh under the name James Barry.
After passing the Royal College of Surgeons examination, he signed up in the army as an assistant surgeon and was one step closer to his dream. Barry served 12 years in the Cape colony (now South Africa) and ended up in charge of all military medical matters there. He was a skilled surgeon who treated rich and poor, colonists and slaves alike. Barry performed one of the first successful caesareans, was committed to sanitary reform and chastized the authorities for mismanagement of barracks, prisons and asylums. He travelled through large parts of the British Empire in his carreer: Mauritius, Jamaica, St Helena, the Windward and Leeward Islands, Malta, Corfu and Canada.
Armed with stacked heels and stuffing his crotch, Barry even acquired a reputation as a “ladykiller”. His true love life may have been of a different kind: Lord Charles Somerset, the Cape governor, was accused of “buggering Dr Barry”. The accuser was not identified and the allegations never substantiated but biographers suspect the pair may indeed have had an affair and that Somerset knew the truth about Barry.
There were those who had their suspicions. But Barry was known for his temper and when a fellow officer said that Barry looked like a woman, he was struck across the face with a horse whip. Some may have thought the possibility was too strange to be true. Barry was, after all, known as a ladies’ man, with an eye for the girls and a nifty dancer.
When Dr Barry died in 1865 and was being prepared for buryal, it became clear that his anatomy was not male and scandal ensued. The charwoman also noticed stretch marks on the belly, evedence of a pregnancy. Only recently has it become clear that young Margaret was raped, possibly by her uncle, and her parents passed off the child as their own.
Was Barry transgender or intersex? Or was living as a man a choice motivated by ambition, as some biographers suggest? We may never know. Dr James Barry is buried under his chosen name in Kensal Green cemetery, north-west London.
The Spectator: Doctor in Disguise - The Secret Life of James Barry
The Guardian: Dr. James Barry: A Womn Ahead of her Times
Wikipedia: James Barry (surgeon)
Last Edited By: jackmolay Mar 1 17 11:10 AM. Edited 1 time