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June EXCLUSIVE; It's Time to Talk Statues Pt 2

15th Jun 2023
June EXCLUSIVE; It's Time to Talk Statues Pt 2

James Barry: a figure with no statue

When you walk through the streets of Edinburgh, it’s easy to get caught up in the statues depicting people of the past. But what about those that aren’t memorialised—people just like you who walked these streets, leaving now-forgotten footsteps behind? Dr James Barry is one such figure.


Who was James Barry?

We’ll begin our story in 1809, when Barry began medical studies at the University of Edinburgh. By 1812, Barry had qualified as an MD. He spent much time in South Africa and in 1822, he was appointed as Colonial Medical Inspector. 

While there, Barry put emphasis on improving sanitation and water access. He even performed the first successful Caesarean section by a European doctor in Africa, where both the mother and child survived.

Is there more to his story?

There is one detail of Barry’s life that we have glanced over—a detail which makes him an invaluable figure to study during Pride month: Barry was assigned female at birth. 

Barry requested that his body not be examined upon his death—a request that was ignored by a charwoman, subsequently leading to his outing. Those who knew him refused to confirm the rumours, though. 

“I informed her that it was none of my business whether Dr Barry was a male or a female […] nor had I any purpose in making the discovery...” Dr McKinnon on Barry’s gender

We can’t ask Barry himself how he would identify today, but we can respect how he identified during his life, and mourn the fact that much of his story has been forgotten. 

What about the other stories we forget?

Have you ever wondered who else might be missing from the streets of Edinburgh? 

We’re answering that question on our featured Edinburgh’s Talking Statues tour. Join our award-winning storytellers on 17th June to hear the history of underrepresented backgrounds and reveal the lives of the statues that stand above us, as well as those that are missing. The tour explores LGBTQ+, Black, and Women’s history.


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I am the notification bar, pleased to meet you.