Open main menu

Barry, James (1795-1865) (DNB00)

BARRY, JAMES (1795–1865), inspector-general of the Army Medical Department, a woman who passed through life as a man, is said to have been the granddaughter of a Scotch earl. She entered the army as a hospital assistant, attired as a man, 5 July 1813, and maintained the assumption of manhood through all the grades to which she rose until the time of her death. She became assistant-surgeon, 7 Dec. 1815; surgeon major, 22 Nov. 1827; deputy inspector-general, 16 May 1851; inspector-general, 7 Dec. 1858; and was placed on half-pay, 19 July 1859. She served at Malta many years and at the Cape of Good Hope. At Capetown, in 1819, Lord Albermarle met the doctor at the house of the governor, Lord Charles Somerset, whose medical adviser she was, while acting as staff surgeon to the garrison. She is described as ‘the most skillful of physicians and the most wayward of men; in appearance a beardless lad, with an unmistakably Scotch type of countenance, reddish hair and high cheek-bones. There was a certain effeminacy in his manner which he was always striving to overcome. His style of conversation was greatly superior to that one usually heard at a mess-table in those days.’ While at the Cape she fought a duel, and was credited with a quarrelsome temper. Often guilty of breaches of discipline, she was sent home under arrest on more than one occasion, but her offences were always condoned at headquarters. She died in London, at 14 Margaret Street, on 25 July 1865, and an official report was immediately sent to the Horse Guards, that Dr. James Barry, the late senior inspector-general, was a woman. It is said that neither the landlady of her lodgings, nor the black servant who had waited upon her for years, had the slightest suspicion of her sex. The motive of her singular conduct is stated to have been love for an army surgeon.

[Hart's Army List, 1864; Lord Albemarle's Fifty Years of my Life, ii. 100; Times, 26 July 1865.]

R. H.