We recently became aware of a single letter from James Miranda Barry, written just before departure for Sebastopol shortly after its capture by the ‘allies’ in 1855. We acquired it in 1977.
Margaret Bulkley was born in Ireland: a bright, precocious child, she moved to London, with her mother in 1805 and there had access to General Francisco de Miranda’s library with ‘treatises such as might be considered to form a tolerably complete Medical Library for a private gentleman’. As her father had been declared bankrupt, she had no hope of a good marriage so it was decided she should go to university but this was not an option for a woman.
Taking the name of James Barry (after an uncle), Barry went to study medicine, at Edinburgh University, one of the most demanding and rigorous courses in Britain. Barry graduated with a MD thesis dedicated to patrons, General Francisco de Miranda and David Steuart Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan (1742-1829). Then, even more extraordinary, after further training, Barry joined the army and travelled throughout the British Empire. There is no definitive version of Barry’s adopted name.
Read more about Barry on Our History
We knew about Barry’s matriculation and graduation records and MD thesis. This letter, while recorded in our sheaf index to manuscripts, had not yet made its way into our online catalogue and was stumbled upon while looking for something else. It makes interesting reading.
(Update: More recent scholarship has raised other perspectives in terms of Barry’s sex and gender. The above has therefore been edited to remove references to gendered pronouns, other than for Barry’s childhood)