In her Memoir of her mother, Lady Rose Weigall, Rachel Weigall relates the following story about a guest they once entertained, Dr. Barrie (pictured right), as Rachel calls him. History records the name as Barry, but no matter the spelling, the story is fascinating. First some background – Rachel’s mother was born Rose Sophia Mary Fane and her father was William Wellesley Pole, older brother to the Duke of Wellington, whose military and later personal secretary was Lord Fitzroy Somerset. We’ll see the role Somerset plays in the following anecdote Rachel writes about her childhood: “One of our most curious guests was the celebrated army Surgeon `Dr. Barrie,’ who was then stationed at Corfu. Lord Fitzroy Somerset asked my father to show him some courtesy, and said he had done such excellent work for the troops. He came to dinner, an odd-looking little person, very small, with a squeaky voice and mincing manner, just like an old maid, as my mother remarked. She found his conversation most agreeable, but we younger members of the party suffered from suppressed laughter at his peculiarities. He was a vegetarian, and refused even eggs, `because they had life in them.’ We often laughed afterwards about “Dr. Barrie”; and it was not until his death many years later that he was discovered to be a woman, who had masqueraded as a man and as an army surgeon for years.” This fact was discovered by Sophia Bishop, who’d laid out the doctor’s body after his death.
Indeed, Dr. James Miranda Barry had graduated from the Medical School of Edinburgh in 1812 and went on to enjoy a successful career as an army surgeon, eventually becoming Inspector General of Hospitals. As Rachel writes above, it was only discovered after his death at a house in Cavendish Square that he was, in fact, a woman. Odder still when you consider that he’d once fought a duel over a woman, while on the other hand, rumor had it that he’d had a homosexual affair with Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of Cape Town, where Barry spent many years in his company. Charles Somerset was the son of the 5th Duke of Beaufort and brother to Lord Fitzroy Somerset. Sophia Bishop, the maid who’d laid out the body, also claimed to have found stretch marks on the body indicative of the fact that the doctor had at least once been pregnant.
For more information on this story, try Dr James Barry: The Early Years Revealed published in the South African Medical Journal in January of 2008 by Hercules Michael du Preez and
The Secret Life of Dr James Barry: Victorian England’s Most Eminent Surgeon by Rachel Holmes