O'Meara, Barry Edward (DNB00)
O'MEARA, BARRY EDWARD (1786–1836), surgeon to Napoleon I, born in Ireland in 1786, was the son of Jeremiah O'Meara, a 'member of the legal profession,' by Miss Murphy, sister of Edmund Murphy, M.A., of Trinity College, Dublin, and rector of Tartaraghan, co. Armagh. He is supposed to have been a descendant of the Irish medical family, of which Dermod Meara [q. v.] was a member (cf. Cameron, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, p. 6). The statement has been repeated that he was educated at Trinity College, and at the Royal College of Surgeons, in Dublin; but his name is not borne upon the registers of either society, and it is more probable that he studied surgery in London. He entered the army in 804 as assistant-surgeon to the 62nd regiment, served with it in Sicily and Calabria, and in General Fraser's expedition to Egypt in 1807, and was senior medical officer to the troops which held the fortress of Scylla. After the conclusion of the expedition of 1807, he was second in a bloodless duel at Messina in Sicily between two military officers, one of whom was O'Meara's old schoolfellow; and owing to the intervention of Lieutenant-colonel Sir John Stuart, who was resolved to suppress the practice of duelling, O'Meara and his principal, who was the challenger, were both ordered to leave the service. Subsequently O'Meara became assistant-surgeon on board H.M.S. Victorious (Captain Sir John Talbot), and later was surgeon successively on board the Espiègle, the Goliath, and the Bellerophon when it received Napoleon in 1816. In both the Goliath and the Bellerophon he served under Captain Maitland [see Maitland, Sir Frederick Lewis], who spoke highly of him. During the passage from Rochefort to Plymouth Bonaparte was attracted by his power of speaking Italian, and, when his own surgeon, Mengeaud, declined to follow him into exile, he asked that O'Meara should be allowed to accompany him to St. Helena as his medical attendant. The admiralty readily permitted him to join the emperor. Napoleon seems to have felt little confidence in his medical skill, but treated him with greater friendliness than was agreeable to Montholon, Las Cases, and other members of his suite.
O'Meara had foreseen that his position might become delicate and difficult. Lowe wished him to act to some extent as a spy upon his prisoner, and to repeat to him the private conversations of the emperor. He recommended that O'Meara's stipend should be raised from 366l. to 520l. per annum, and for some time their relations were cordial. But Lowe soon detected O'Meara in several irregularities, for which he reprimanded him with asperity. O'Meara retaliated by withholding his reports of Napoleon's conversations. The breach rapidly widened, and O'Meara lent himself with increasing readiness to Napoleon's policy of exasperation. Lowe asked the government to recall O'Meara. Lord Bathurst at first declined, but in May 1818 evidence of O'Meara's intrigues reached him from a source other than the governor's despatches, and in July O'Meara was dismissed from his post. He carried with him from the island an autograph note from Napoleon, dated 25 July 1818, which ran: 'Je prie mes parens et mes amis de croire tout ce que le docteur O'Meara leur dira relativement à la position où je me trouve et aux sentimens que je conserve. S'il voit ma bonne Louise, je la prie de permettre qu'il lui baise la main.' Upon his arrival in England he despatched, on 28 Oct. 1818, a letter to the admiralty, insinuating that Napoleon's life was not safe in Lowe's hands. The admiralty, by way of reply, informed O'Meara on 2 Nov. that his name had been erased from the list of naval surgeons. There seems no doubt that his conduct throughout was that of an indiscreet partisan, or rather puppet, of Napoleon; and his diagnosis of his patient's case as one of liver disease induced by the malignity of the climate was falsified by Napoleon's subsequent death from a disease which is not affected by climate (Arnott, Napoleon's Last Illness).
O'Meara's attitude rendered him extremely popular with a large party in England, and Byron, in his 'Age of Bronze,' thus mentioned the incident of his dismissal:
The stiff surgeon who maintained his cause
Hath lost his place and gained the world's applause.
O'Meara subsequently attached himself to the opposition, and espoused the cause of Queen Caroline. Moore the poet, writing in 1820 in his 'Journal,' says that O^Meara devoted himself to the queen's business, and collected her witnesses, &c., at her trial. He also became an active member of the Reform Club, joining the first committee in 1836, and was a warm adherent of Daniel O'Connell.
O'Meara had commenced a pamphlet war against his enemy Lowe by the anonymous publication in 1817 of 'Letters from the Cape of Good Hope,' of which a French version appeared two years later. This was written in reply to Dr. William Warden's 'Letters written on board the Northumberland and at St. Helena,’ 1816. In 1819 an attempt to vindicate Lowe's position was made in an anonymous pamphlet (assigned to Theodore Hook), ‘Facts illustrative of the Treatment of Napoleon Bonaparte,’ which was criticised severely in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ (xxxii. 148–70). Later in the year O'Meara published ‘An Exposition of some of the Transactions that have taken place at St. Helena since the appointment of Sir Hudson Lowe as Governor,’ in which he replied to the anonymous pamphlet. His ‘Exposition’ was well received, and in 1822 he produced an expanded version as ‘Napoleon in Exile; or a Voice from St. Helena. The Opinions and Reflections of Napoleon on the most important events of his life and government, in his own words,’ 2 vols. 8vo. This work created a great sensation, and it soon reached a fifth edition, while a French translation appeared in three volumes between 1822 and 1825. Its most valuable feature was an account of Napoleon's outspoken conversations with O'Meara; but the chapters that chiefly rendered it popular were those that pitilessly denounced the treatment meted out to Napoleon by Lowe and the government. Croker in the ‘Quarterly Review’ (October 1822, xxviii. 219–64), and Christopher North in ‘Blackwood's Magazine’ (xiv. 172), in reviewing it, assailed O'Meara furiously; while the ‘Edinburgh’ for June defended him with equal warmth (xxxvii. 164–204).
Lowe did not take any steps to defend his character from O'Meara's embittered attacks till, in Hilary term 1823, he applied for a rule for a criminal information. He was then informed that his case was ‘lost in point of time,’ and he was dissuaded from indicting O'Meara, or bringing an action for damages against him. But Lord Bathurst advised Lowe to draw up a full vindication of his government at St. Helena, and publish it with other documents. This counsel Sir Hudson did not follow, but, instead, wearied the government with applications for redress. It was not until 1853 that the publication of William Forsyth's ‘Captivity of Napoleon at St. Helena, from the Letters and Journals of Sir Hudson Lowe,’ proved that O'Meara had overstated his case, and was largely inspired by bitter personal feeling against Lowe. Besides a few pamphlets, O'Meara's only further publication was some ‘Observations upon the Authenticity of Bourrienne's “Memoirs”’ (1831). He left in manuscript a journal kept at St. Helena, which he bequeathed to Mr. Mailliard of Bordentown, New Jersey, formerly Joseph Bonaparte's private secretary. He died on 3 June 1836 at his house in Edgware Road, of erysipelas in the head, contracted, it was said, by attending one of O'Connell's meetings. Many relics of Napoleon, including a tooth extracted by O'Meara, which fetched seven guineas and a half, were sold at the sale of his effects on 18 and 19 July.
O'Meara was twice married. He became, in 1823, the third husband of Theodosia, daughter of Sir Edward Boughton of Lawford, Warwickshire. She first married, in 1777, Captain John Donellan, who was hanged at Warwick in 1781 for poisoning her brother, Sir Theodosius Edward Allesley Boughton. Her second husband was Sir Egerton Leigh, bart. (d. 1818), by whom she had one son and three daughters. She died in 1830 (Gent. Mag. 1830, pt. ii. p. 179). Kathleen O'Meara [q. v.], the granddaughter of O'Meara, is noticed separately.
[Las Cases' Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, pt. vi. p. 370; ‘Napoleon à Sainte-Hélène,’ Rapports Officiels du Baron Sturmer; Firmin-Didot's La Captivité de Sainte-Hélène d'après les Rapports du Marquis de Montchenu, 1894; Thiers's Hist. de l'Empire, 1879, iv. 678, 681; Alison's Hist. of Europe; Moore's Corresp. vol. iii.; Fagan's Reform Club, pp. 27, 30, 35; Annual Register, 1836; Gent. Mag. 1836, pt. ii. pp. 219, 434; Allibone's Dict.; Brit. Mus. Cat.; information kindly given by Charles M. Tenison, esq., of Hobart, Tasmania; and see art. Lowe, Sir Hudson.]