Scanty Particulars

Scanty Particulars : The Life of Dr. James Barry

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This is a biography of the enigmatic Dr James Miranda Barry, who performed the first recorded successful caesarean section. Posted by the army as staff surgeon, Barry spent much of his career traversing the globe and eventually reaching the higest rank of Inspector General of Hospitals. But throughout his career, Barry courted controversy - through his flamboyant dress, his dalliances with society women and his strange and enduringly intimate friendship with Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of South Africa. The mystery surrounding Barry climaxed after his death, when the servant who laid out his body made a most surprising revelation. "Scanty Particulars" is the personal tale of an intensely public person whose life unfolds amidst constant drama, a world of medical innovation and colonial more

Product details

  • Paperback | 352 pages
  • 128 x 194 x 26mm | 258.55g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • New edition
  • b&w illustrations and photographs, bibliography, index
  • 0140290850
  • 9780140290851

Review Text

Dr James Barry was a hugely colourful and contradictory character. A brilliant surgeon and doctor whose ideas about medical treatment and racial equality were years ahead of their time, he is remembered more for the sexual scandal that engulfed him in South Africa than for the fact that he conducted the colony's first successful Caesarean operation, one of the first in the world. Barry graduated precociously young from Edinburgh University before moving to London, where he became the epitome of the Regency dandy, with outrageously padded jackets, powdered and elaborately coiffed hair and flowing trousers. Even without the entourage he was later to acquire - black manservant, poodle named Psyche and goat (for fresh milk; he was a vegetarian) - his eccentric appearance guaranteed his notoriety. In South Africa, he became famous for his run-ins with authority, particularly over the treatment of lepers, but his professional achievements were overshadowed by the publication of a libellous poster alleging that his close friendship with the Governor of the Cape Colony, Lord Charles Somerset, was actually a sexual relationship. But Barry survived the scandal, and his subsequent postings to Jamaica, St Helena, Mauritius and Canada, to name but a few, were notable for the energy with which he crusaded against poor sanitation and nutrition, subjects that were then poorly understood. A brief visit to the Crimea brought him into contact with Florence Nightingale, who disliked him; and writers such as Mark Twain recorded his exploits. It was not until his death, however, that a secret would emerge which made him even more famous than the achievements of his life. Rachel Holmes has done a marvellous job of stitching together the facts that are known about Barry into a rich and readable biography, and the way she holds back until the very last the mystery Barry would take to his grave is nothing short of masterful, given the many temptations she must have had to reveal it in the preceding chapters. (Kirkus UK)show more

Author information

Rachel Holmes spent her childhood between South Africa and England. Formerly a lecturer in English at the Universities of London and Sussex, she is now Website Manager of, and a regular speaker, multimedia commentator, and guest on Newsnight Review. She lives in more

Table of contents

Betwixt-and-between; "An eagle's eye, a lady's hand, and a lion's heart"; an absolute phenomenon; sieketroost; sacrificed to infamy; "My good name"; Doctor Jamaica; insular obsessions; the last post; beyond a doubt; Habeas more

Rating details

39 ratings
3.53 out of 5 stars
5 15% (6)
4 36% (14)
3 36% (14)
2 13% (5)
1 0% (0)
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