conduct unbecoming

James Barry (c. 1789 –  1865), was a military surgeon in the British Army.

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“Among his accomplishments was the first caesarean section in Africa by a British surgeon in which both the mother and child survived the operation. Although Barry lived his adult life as a man, it is widely believed that he was born a female named Margaret Ann Bulkley and that he chose to live as a man so that he might be accepted as a university student and be able to pursue his chosen career as a surgeon.

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Margaret was born in Ireland in 1789, the second child of Jeremiah and Mary-Ann Bulkley. The child’s mother was the sister of James Barry, a celebrated Irish artist and professor of painting at London’s Royal Academy. However, a family crisis left Mary-Ann and Margaret without the support of Jeremiah Bulkley. Letters during this time of financial hardship refer to a conspiracy between Mary-Ann and some of her brother’s influential, liberal-minded friends to get the teenager – then still known as Margaret – into medical school.

self portrait by James Barry found here

A letter to the family solicitor shows that Mary-Ann and Margaret travelled to Edinburgh by sea in November 1809.  The letter also indicated that the younger traveller had assumed a male identity upon embarking on the voyage. Following his arrival in Edinburgh, Barry began studies as a ‘literary and medical student’. He qualified with a Medical Doctorate in 1812, then moved back to London.

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Barry was commissioned as a Hospital Assistant with the British Army, taking up a post in the Royal Military Hospital in Plymouth, where he was promoted to Assistant Staff Surgeon. After that he served in India and South Africa. Barry’s next postings included Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago, and the island of Saint Helena. In Saint Helena he got into trouble for leaving for England unannounced. Later he served in Malta, the Crimea, Jamaica, and Canada.

St Helena found here

He was a misfit from the start: less than 5ft tall, he wore stacked heels and had to have 3in soles fastened to his boots to give him elevation. But the flamboyant styles of the day – men dressed effeminately as a fashion, not a sexual statement – worked in his favour. 

elephant dung stacked heels found here

He rapidly became known for his foibles, which included sleeping every night with a black poodle called Psyche, riding about in dress uniform wearing a cavalry sword and taking a goat everywhere so he could drink its milk. Despite “a most peculiar squeaky voice and mincing manner”, as one ambassador’s daughter noted, Dr Barry’s fierce temper ensured he was a force to be reckoned with.

goat found here

Barry was not always a pleasant fellow to be around. He could be tactless, impatient, argumentative and opinionated. He reputedly fought a couple of duels when someone commented on his voice and feminine features, though he appears to have had a good bedside manner and professional skill. He was a vegetarian and teetotaler and reputedly recommended wine baths for some (lucky) patients.

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James Barry retired in 1864 — reputedly against his wishes — and returned to England. He died from dysentery a year later. Sophia Bishop, the charwoman who took care of the body, discovered his female anatomy and revealed this information after the funeral. Many people then claimed to have “known it all along”.