James Barry

James Barry was a surgeon whose work took him all over the world. But James Barry started his life very differently.

Find out about the life of surgeon James Barry

Who was James Barry?

  • James Barry was born Margaret Ann Bulkley in Cork in the south of Ireland around 1789.
  • Margaret Ann Bulkley was an intelligent child, clever enough to become a doctor. Unfortunately, only men were allowed to study medicine at this time.
  • In 1809, Margaret took on a new identity as James Barry and became a medical student at Edinburgh University.
  • James qualified as a doctor in 1812 and worked at St Thomas's Hospital in London for six months.
  • In 1813 he became an army surgeon and travelled all over the world, to places like South Africa and the West Indies.
  • James could be very bad tempered and once got into an argument with the famous nurse Florence Nightingale!
  • James Barry died in 1865 and only then did people discover that he had started life as Margaret Bulkley.
Surgeon James Barry

Why was James Barry important?

  • James Barry was the UK's first female-born doctor, although no-one knew this at the time.

  • As an army surgeon he travelled all over the British Empire.

  • Barry was interested in public health - rather than curing sick people he worked to keep them well through better living conditions, healthy diet and clean water to drink.

  • James Barry became very angry when he saw people living in unhealthy conditions, but his anger often got him into trouble

  • He was eventually promoted to the job of Inspector General of military hospitals in Canada.

A portrait of James Barry when young

James Barry's travels in the British Empire

A map of the British Empire from 1837. The places where James Barry worked as a surgeon are marked with a red dot.

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