The Mysterious Life of Dr Barry: A Surgeon Unlike Any Other

The Mysterious Life of Dr Barry: A Surgeon Unlike Any Other

By Author / Illustrator

Lisa Williamson


Biographies & Autobiographies

Age range(s)



Pushkin Children's Books




Paperback / softback




1800. London. Margaret Anne Bulkley desperately wants to be a surgeon - but only men can train as doctors.Fifty years later, Dr James Barry is famous, serving as Inspector General of Hospitals throughout the British Empire. A brilliant surgeon, bold reformer and prickly individual known for his fierce temper, he fought a duel in South Africa and clashed with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea.But Dr Barry has a secret that he is determined no one should ever learn...



The author's own background (which we read on one of the preliminary pages of The Mysterious Life of Dr Barry: A Surgeon Unlike Any Other) makes her ideally suited to tell the story of this remarkable 19th Century figure.

Irish-born Margaret Bulkley, like most women of her era, was not destined for privilege, prestige or power. A life as a governess was a much more realistic aspiration. But Margaret had other ideas, even from a young age, and would fight (quite literally at times) to be proved right. However, public vindication, understanding and admiration would only come after her death; in life, adopting a male persona was the only option if she were to become a surgeon. This was her secret and she was going to keep it, at all costs, from all but a very few. But prove herself she did, as a strong advocate for those hit hardest by poverty and those struck down by dangerous conditions in various parts of the then British Empire.

The book describes how she treated dysentery, leprosy and complications in childbirth, as well as her own wounds and illnesses (since the risk of anyone seeing her unclothed would be to jeopardise her career). Her hot temper, ambition and stubbornness won her few friends and quite a few enemies, but, under the pseudonym of James Barry, she undoubtedly achieved much. This is a story which will captivate many older readers (who can cope with some of the stark details), not just those with an interest in gender issues.

144 pages / Reviewed by Jane Rew, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 9+


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