James Miranda Stuart Barry was alleged to have been a woman who disguised herself as a man so as to pursue medical studies at a time when females where not allowed to become doctors. He was clever and agreeable save for the drawbacks of a most quarrelsome temper, and inordinate addiction to arguments.5
1812 Qualified at the University of Edinburgh, aged just 17 years. His MD thesis in Latin was on hernia of the groin. Worked as a pupil dresser at the United Hospitals of Guy's and St Thomas's under the tutelage of Astley Cooper.
5 July 1813 In Jan 1813, Barry passed the examination of the Royal College of Surgeons of London. He was commissioned Hospital Assistant on 5 July.
7 Dec 1815 Commissioned Staff Assistant Surgeon.
1816-1828 Served in the Cape Colony South Africa as Staff Surgeon to the Governor, Lord Charles Somerset. Fought a duel with Captain Cloete, Aide-de-Camp to the Governor, after Captain Cloete had pulled Barry's rather long nose for the disparaging remarks he had made about a local lady.6
The young Staff Surgeon established a reputation as a skilled physician, especially in midwifery and women's diseases. In 1826, he was credited to have performed the first successful caesarean section in South Africa. This was one of the earliest recorded cases in which both mother and child survived.
Left the Cape on his own accord following a disagreement with the Senior Medical Officer Surgeon Major McNab on his confidential report. Appeared before the War Office and was appointed Regimental Surgeon to the 3rd West India Regiment based in Jamaica. He served with the regiment at British Guiana and Sierra Leone on the West Coast of Africa.
22 Nov 1827 Promoted Staff Surgeon.
Served as PMO St Helena, an important naval and military station on the Eastern Trade Route traffic around the Cape. Among the medical officers serving under him, Barry was known as a hard man to please, and one who would brook no slackness in duty or deportment.
Malta 5 Nov 1846 Arrived from Trinidad as Principal Medical Officer Malta.
16 Nov 1846 Took charge of the Medical Department Malta Command.
Dec 1846 Was rebuked by HE The Governor Sir Patrick Stuart, for having committed a
disrespectful act when soon after his arrival and dressed in full uniform, he occupied a seat in one of the stalls in the Collegiate Church of St Paul's which was reserved for the clergy.1 The Malta Mail and United Service Journal of 31 Dec 1840 published the following articles.
We express our unqualified disapprobation that an officer and a gentleman presuming on his position should dare go into the vestry and there behave in so highly indecorous a manner, as Dr Barry is represented to us to have done. If a report has been done by the clergy to the governor, they too are to blame for giving out of their hands the power delegated to them in things spiritual connected with the Church of St Paul. Had Dr Barry been properly punished, Mr Cleugh would have stopped the service till the clerk or the beadle had ordered the intruder out. We fancy that the little great man would have blushed turnips and cauliflowers, and the effects on his sensitive mind would have been even greater than that produced by the governor.7
In a further comment entitled The Disfranchised Barber another commentator declared about Dr Barry that
the man is mad – clean daft and must be shaved. What in a free church dare tell a British Officer in the uniform of the Queen that he can't have a seat in the church, because he is not married Hah! Hah! Hah! – our visible muscles play fearfully and excite us to merriment. Does the beadle – the acme of all human greatness whilst showing the married to their seats the figure of every thing valorous, when wound up to the pitch of saying, – Sir, You are an officer not married – never mind your epaulets- you can't come here by no means till you have got a wife, – and then as if pleased at his own conceit, we fancy we hear the fool add, the sooner he comes to the altar the better for all here concerned.7
Another feature entitled A Poser placed the question as to whether
Dr Barry has a right to sit in the clerical stalls or not? We address our question to Sir Patrick Stuart and in spite of the thunder of the dry nurse will prove it affirmatively. Dr Barry is in orders, and the stalls are specifically set apart for gentleman so honoured, ergo we maintain that this right is proved, though might, may prevent his claiming it.7
Malta 1847 Introduced stoves in the hospital wards and substituted wooded boards and trestles for iron bedsteads.
Malta May 1847 Involved in a joint consultation with Staff Surgeon 2nd Class William Edward Burton, and Assistant Surgeon Charles Dawson 42nd Regiment, when the Governor and Garrison Commander Sir Patrick Stuart contracted dysentery.
6 Sept 1848 Cholera Epidemic in Malta.
Malta 1848 Refused to declare that cholera had broken out among the troops. Barry insisted that the disease was only summer diarrhoea. He was supported in this by surgeon Daniel Armstrong 44th Foot, Assistant Surgeon Arthur Stewart Willocks 69th Foot, Surgeon Edward Robertson 44th Foot, and Dr Sankey RN, who attributed the disease to the stagnant water below Fort St Elmo.2
Malta 1849 The sick from Fort Ricasoli were conveyed by boat across the harbour to the marina, and then had to make their own way to the military hospital. Those too debilitated by fever were unable to walk the two miles the hospital. In June calls were made for a more humane way to convey the sick to hospital. Barry introduced
a sort of omnibus in which his sick could take air and exercise, and which could convey them from the Custom House to the military hospital.
Malta 1850 Objected to the opening of the Civil Hospital in the former House of Industry at Floriana, on the grounds that the bad air from the hospital would be detrimental to the health of the troops in the near by Floriana Barrack. The barrack was located between the Civil Hospital above it, and the Ospizio below it. The Ospizio or Poor House had 600 inmates adjoining the barracks, which being on a lower level, the foul air ascended to the barracks. Barry also objected to raising the walls of the Civil Hospital as this would impede ventilation to the barracks.
1 Nov 1850 On leave to the Levant where she intended to visit outposts in the Black Sea.
Malta 31 Mar 1851 Left for Corfu on promotion to Deputy Inspector General vice DIG William Hacket, who was promoted to local Inspector General on 16 May 1851.
The Malta Mail and United Service Journal hoped that
the worthy doctor caries with him the best wishes of a very large circle of friends and acquaintances4, whereas The Malta Times of 5 October 1865, commented that during his stay in Malta, Barry
was equally distinguished by his skill and by his pugnacious propensities, the latter becoming so inconveniently developed upon the slightest difference of opinion with him, that at least no notice was allowed to be taken of his fits of temper.
At Corfu, Barry supervised the care of the casualties from the Crimea, and in 1855 took his annual leave in the Crimea.
16 May 1851 Deputy Inspector General.
1856 In the Crimea, Barry made recommendations to the military camps and hospitals about the measures to be put in place to prevent rain from damaging the foundations of hospital huts.
18 Dec 1857 Appointed Inspector General Hospitals in Canada vice Thomas Alexander who was appointed a Commissioner on Sidney Herbert's Committee of Military Inquiry. In their turn, Staff Surgeon of the First Class James Henderson was promoted Deputy Inspector General Hospitals vice Barry, while Staff Surgeon of the First Class Richard Dane was recalled from half-pay to fill the vacancy on the Staff created by Henderson.
7 Dec 1858 Inspector General.
19 July 1859 In 1859, while in Canada, Barry caught influenza and bronchitis, and returned to London in a weak state. A medical Board declared him unfit and he was retired to half-pay in July.
25 July 1865 Died in a lodging house, No 14, Margaret Street, Cavendish Square, London of diarrhoea during an epidemic. In his final illness he was attended by Staff Surgeon Major David Reid McKinnon, who signed the death certificate. He was buried at Kensal Green cemetery.
After his death rumours spread that Dr Barry was a woman. Percival R Kirby in his paper read at the Annual General Meeting of the South African Museums Association held at King William's Town on 24 March 1965 argues that James Barry was a type of male hermaphrodite with testicular feminization syndrome. Staff Surgeon Major David Reid McKinnon in his reply to a query from the Registrar General as to the sex of Dr Barry, stated that he thought
it as likely he might be neither, viz an imperfectly developed man.