Mixed media (gouache, water colour and ink) on Felix Schoeller True Rag Etching
427 X 630 mm (original artwork is framed in one-off arched frame with bronze plaque as per image)

Prints are on Felix Schoeller True Rag Etching 310 gsm
437 x 655mm (with added white border for square format)
Edition of 15
Hand-signed, dated and numbered

In 1855, after meeting the surgeon Dr James Miranda Barry while serving at a field hospital in Istanbul together, Florence Nightingale wrote to her sister “He behaved like a brute, the most hardened creature I have ever met!” Only posthumously would the truth be revealed: that the brute surgeon Barry was actually born Margaret Anne Bulkley – assigned female – in 1789, Ireland.

The story of Margaret’s risky charade begins with dwindling family fortunes, the death of her uncle, the painter James Barry, and mentorship from his friends – who encouraged Margaret to pursue further studies. How the plan was cemented remains opaque, but on the 30th of November, 1809, Margaret disappeared, and a young “nephew” and namesake of the artist James Barry arrived in Edinburgh to study medicine and graduated three years later.

Dr Barry’s career began at St. Thomas’s hospital in London, after which he applied to the army medical board claiming to be eighteen (Margaret would have been 24). The “prodigious” doctor passed all his examinations and sailed for the Cape Colony in 1816. Here he began a relationship with Lord Charles Somerset. In 1824, Dr Barry was nearly outed when a placard was posted along Heerengracht proclaiming “Lord Charles buggering Dr Barry!” While there was a court of inquiry, the case was dropped without evidence. After this incident it is said that Barry became confrontational and intolerant, with a ferocious temper that challenged authority and doled insults at perceived incompetence. He was known for his impeccable hygiene and went to work improving sanitation and water systems, as well as the living conditions of slaves, prisoners and the mentally ill. He was known for wearing platform boots and adopting small white dogs, who were always named “Psyche”. His most famous accomplishment at the colony involved performing the first successful cesarean surgery in Africa.

Hereafter Barry, now a fully-fledged brigadier-general, held posts in England, St Helena, Jamaica, Trinidad, Malta, Corfu, Scutari, and Montreal. At the last station Barry’s temper finally caught up with him when he assailed the Dean of Montreal, the bishop, archdeacon and other members of the clergy with insulting conduct. He was relieved of his North American command. In 1965 Barry died of Cholera, and his true sex was revealed by coroners.