The first female doctor died 150 years ago writes Paul Craven

PRECISE INFORMATION regarding the origins of the person who became known as ‘James Barry’ is not available.

However, the best evidence suggests the ‘he’ was born Margaret Bulkley. ‘His’ (or her) place of birth is usually given as Cork, and ‘his’ date of birth is variously given as 1792 and 1799 (as her University and Army records do not agree).

Her mother was Mrs. Mary Ann Bulkley, whose maiden name was Barry and whose family were well known shipbuilders in Cork City.

As for the name of her father, that is still the subject of speculation.

However, it is certain, that in the early 1800s, Mrs. Mary Ann Bulkley arrived in London with her two daughters. She complained to her brother, James, that she had been thrown out of the family home, in Cork, by her husband and son.

James refused to help his sister and nieces, but when he died shortly afterwards, Mrs. Bulkley benefitted from her brother’s estate.

She also benefitted from the patronage of two of her deceased brother’s acquaintances – David Stuart, the Eleventh Earl of Buchan, and a South American exile, General Francisco de Miranda.

These two men were radicals by the standards of the day as they advocated female education!

It was they who noticed how clever and bright young Margaret was, and probably suggested that she should disguise herself as a man to enjoy an education normally prohibited to women.

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