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James Barry



This week we are going to discuss the interesting life of surgeon James Barry, or should we say, Margaret Bulkley?


Barry was born in Cork in Ireland in the late 1700s but moved to London as a teenager with their mother. Barry was a bright individual and a plan was devised for Barry to attend medical school at the University of Edinburgh. In 1809, Margaret Bulkley became James Barry, after her uncle as women were not permitted to enter medical school. This name stuck for the rest of her life.


The university senate tried to block Barry's application as they thought he was a boy not passed the age of puberty due to their short stature and unbroken voice. They did not consider him to be a girl in disguise. After qualifying in 1812, Barry returned to London for surgical training. Barry then joined the army as an assistant surgeon to the forces. Barry was posted to South Africa, Mauritius, Jamaica, Corfu, and Canada. Throughout his career, Barry made significant changes by improving sanitation and water systems for those enslaved by the British. Barry also performed the first successful C-section where both the mother and child survived. He took great pride in making improvements in the sanitation of soldiers and regular civilians.


Barry retired in 1859 due to ill health and old age, he was forced to retire. He died in 1865 due to dysentery. Following his death, a postmortem was carried out. It was only then that a woman who laid out the body noticed the female genitalia as well as stretch marks that indicated a previous pregnancy. It has been speculated that Barry’s younger sister, Julianna, was her daughter. The woman took her findings to the press when Barry’s physician refused to believe her. By disguising their gender, Barry was able to lead a successful career in medicine. It would not have been possible if they went by the name of Margaret Bulkley.


Speaking of post mortem... why not join us at The Post Mortem Live for our 2022/23 UK tour! Get your tickets here!

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