Revealed: pioneering British Army surgeon actually a woman

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The mystery of the pioneering British Army surgeon who successfully fooled Victorian society into thinking she was a man throughout her extraordinary life has finally been solved.

Historians have been kept guessing over claims Dr James Barry, Inspector General of Military Hospitals, was in fact a woman for more than 140 years.

Now previously unknown letters, highlighted in this week's New Scientist, have proved the diminutive physician who fought for better conditions for troops, shot a man in a duel and reached the top of "his" profession began life as the daughter of a grocer from Cork.

The scandal that shook the Victorian military establishment began when Dr Barry fell victim to the dysentery epidemic that swept London in the summer of 1865.

Only after Dr Barry's remains lay in Kensal Green Cemetery did Sophia Bishop, a maid at his lodgings who prepared the body for burial, make the startling claim he was in fact a she.

If Bishop was telling the truth, a woman had posed as a man to become the first female medical graduate in Britain, fooled the army into employing her and then kept her sex secret for half a century.

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