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History Buff, a blog for history lovers everywhere! History Buff brings
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historical fiction writer I am fascinated by news stories featuring the
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Dr Barry's deathbed sex secret: The extraordinary truth about a great war hero and medical pioneer
On the morning of July 25, 1865, just after dawn, a loud scream rang out around the great physician's deathbed.
Dr James Barry had not been an easy patient. A man as cantankerous as he was brilliant, few dared argue with the Inspector General of Military Hospitals, so for the past month his curtains had been kept drawn, ensuring his bedroom on London's Cavendish Square was in a state of perpetual half-light.
But now he was dead, Sophia Bishop, the charwoman sent to prepare his corpse, had no intention of complying with his final wish, which was that on no account should he be changed out of the clothes in which he had died.
Under wraps: Dr James Barry was born Margaret Buckley
"The devil!" cried Sophia as she pulled up his nightshirt to wash his body and, quite literally, uncovered a secret the doctor had managed to hide for most of his life.
"It's a woman - and [noting what she took for stretch marks on his stomach] a woman that has had a child."
This truth was so scandalous to Victorian Britain that for years it was hushed up.
Dr James Barry was one of the most highly respected surgeons of his day. He had risen from hospital assistant to become the top-ranking doctor in the British Army and was known as a zealous reformer who had served in garrisons from South Africa to Jamaica.
He performed one of the first successful Caesarean sections in medical history, was summoned by Napoleon to attend to the son of his private secretary and, thanks to his careful subterfuge, was the first woman to practise medicine in Britain.