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James Miranda Barry

James Miranda Barry

Born in 1795, Barry entered the medical school of Edinburgh University at the age of ten and graduated in 1812. While she was pushed towards the medical profession at a young age, it would have been impossible for her to succeed in the profession if the fact she was female was known.

A surgeon in the Colonial Service, Barry was stationed in countries including South Africa, Canada and Mauritius and also served in the Crimean War. It is believed that she gained a reputation for having a flirtatious manner, and became known for sexual peccadilloes involving fellow officer’s wives and the officers themselves. She is also said to have fought a duel over a woman in 1819.

It is all the more remarkable that Barry held the disguise of being a man for more than 50 years, as she would have maintained a smooth face when abroad while colleagues would have typically grown facial hair.

Barry was described as being 5ft tall, with a pale face, high cheekbones, sandy curls - dyed red in later life - a long nose and blue eyes. Her hands were small and delicate. Many of her acquaintances later reported that they had suspicions about her true sex, some believing her to be a hermaphrodite.

While in Trinidad, Barry contracted yellow fever and it is believed that her sex was discovered as a result. However, reports suggest that she managed to persuaded the doctor who made the discovery not to unveil her secret.

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