Liza O’Connor on James Barry and The Troublesome Apprentice

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Liza shares more about James Barry, a real Victorian woman who lived her life as a man. In fact, she joined the army and became their highest ranking Medical doctor.

james barry

While female patients declared her kind and caring, Barry was sent off a great deal of islands for angering the local governments and religious leaders. The first time he met Florence Nightingale didn’t go well either, as stated in this letter by Florence:


“I never had such a blackguard rating in all my life – I who have had more than any woman – than from this Barry sitting on his horse, while I was crossing the Hospital Square with only my cap on in the sun. He kept me standing in the midst of quite a crowd of soldiers, Commissariat, servants, camp followers, etc., etc., every one of whom behaved like a gentleman during the scolding I received while he behaved like a brute . . . After he was dead, I was told that [he] was a woman . . . I should say that [she] was the most hardened creature I ever met.”


Hold on, you say. Wasn’t Barry’s gender supposed to be a 100 year secret?

Turns out quite a few people knew the truth back then, besides the manservant who returned to Jamaica and the charwoman who cleaned the body. Even the General Register Office had heard the whispers and clearly Barry’s doctor at the time of her death knew, despite his denial of such.

Here are some interesting letters on the matter:

Letter from the General Register Office:


It has been stated to me that Inspector-General Dr. James Barry, who died at 14 Margaret Street on 25 July 1865, was after his death found to be female. As you furnished the Certificate as to the cause of his death, I take the liberty of asking you whether what I have heard is true, and whether you yourself ascertained that he was a woman and apparently had been a mother?

Perhaps you may decline answering these questions; but I ask them not for publication but for my own information.

Your faithful servant

George Graham”


That has to be the most polite “You cocked up this autopsy!” letter I’ve ever seen.


Here’s a condensed version of McKinnon’s response:


I had been intimately acquainted with the doctor for good many years, both in London and the West Indies and I never had any suspicion that Dr. Barry was a woman.

There was the woman who performed the last offices for Dr. Barry… Amongst other things she said thatDr. Barry was a female and that I was a pretty doctor not to know this and she would not like to be attended by me.”

Go Sassy Charwoman!

“I informed [her] that it was none of my business whether Dr. Barry was a male or a female…She then said that she had examined the body, and [it] was a perfect female and farther that there were marks of ‘him’ having had a child when very young.

I then enquired, “How have you formed that conclusion?”

The woman, pointing to the lower part of his stomach, said, “From marks here. I am a married woman and the mother of nine children and I ought to know.”

…I informed [her] that my own impression was that Dr. Barry was a Hermaphrodite. But whether Dr. Barry was a male, female, or hermaphrodite I do not know, nor had I any purpose in making the discovery.”


Further investigation proved, in fact, Dr. Barry was a woman. The British Army managed to warn into silence all those that knew the truth and sealed Barry’s records for 100 years.

Thus, James Barry was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery under her male name and retained her full rank in death.


Had Vic or Xavier questioned Barry’s doctor, his declared ignorance of his job would have gotten him scolded for sure. Fortunately, for the doctor, this dance around the truth occurred in 1865. Vic wasn’t born yet and Xavier was but 4 years old, and while he was very bossy even at four, External Affairs had not yet invited him to join their ranks of spies protecting England.

And I wish to conclude with the same takeaway I did in the prior discussion on James Barry, because it’s important for your enjoyment of my series: Barry was diminutive in size and had a high voice. And yet, all through medical school and then 44 years in the army, she fooled them all.

Only a man could do great things. For a woman to be so amazing was more inconceivable than the truth scolding them before their eyes.

This makes me wonder how many other real women in the Victorian Era dressed up as men and did extraordinary things. Fooling the world wasn’t that hard.

All you needed to do was

  1. Dress up as a man
  2. Be rude and obnoxious when people annoy you.
  3. Be highly skilled in your profession



-End of Discussion.

I’ve given Vic far more advantages than James Barry had: Vic’s as tall as most men, she speaks in a low voice, and possesses many binding undershirts specifically made to crush flat her breasts, widen her waist and provide the appearance of a manhood hiding beneath her pants.

She can also be very rude and bossy. She’s even yelled at Chief Inspector Stone of Scotland Yard.

Yet, even half-trained she exhibits an extraordinary range of talents needed to capture criminals. The Chief Inspector even offered to hire her when Xavier fires her. (Xavier has a bad rep when it comes to secretaries, which is the job he hired Vic to do.)

It even takes Xavier a little time to discover the truth about Vic and even more time to discover what continues to stand between them.

Now to the story:



The Adventures of

Xavier & Vic

Book 1

The Troublesome Apprentice

By Liza O’Connor


The Key to Aunt Maddy’s Death

The Missing Husband of Mrs. Wimple

The Disappearing Scarlet Nun

The Clever Butcher’s Wife

The Rescue of Lady Anne


While investigating the death of a friend and client, Maddy Hamilton, Xavier Thorn (reputed to be the greatest sleuth in England) is greatly impressed with Maddy’s nephew, Victor, and offers him a job as his secretary. Aware of Xavier’s history of firing secretaries, Victor garners a promise that for three months he cannot be fired. Vic then proceeds, in Xavier’s view, to be cheeky and impertinent at every turn. Xavier endures the impudent pup because Victor is most skilled in extracting the truth from clients and intuiting facts with little evidence to assist.

As they solve a string of cases, Xavier discovers a few more important details about his troublesome apprentice, such as her true gender, and the realization that she has awakened his long dormant heart.


Vic was raised by her Aunt Maddy, a ‘New Woman’ who chose not to marry one of the endless trail of gentlemen wishing to acquire her fortune. Instead, she decided to be the ‘master’ of her domain and remain single. Instead, she takes her handsome butler, Gregory, as her lover and pretends the life of a spinster.

This is the scene, when Vic & Clare have to tell Gregory how and why Aunt Maddy died:

They found Gregory seated on Maddy’s bed and sat down on each side of him. Taking his hands into theirs, Vic retold the story once more.

Witnessing stoic Gregory break down and cry shocked Vic to her core. What if they couldn’t pull the dear man from his grief?

“Aunt Maddy’s life was not a meaningless sacrifice, Gregory. She saved countless lives. Many people would have died, had she not bought those shoes and obtained the key. She is a hero, even in death, and I am certain she is pleased as punch, up in heaven, knowing she stopped the sale of government secrets.”

Between Claire’s sweet embrace and Xavier’s words shared by Vic, the gasps of pain lessened and finally the healing began.

Once Gregory regained his composure and settled on firm ground, Vic tried to distract him from the residual pain by informing him she had a job as Xavier’s secretary for a hundred pounds a month.

Gregory sighed. “Victor, Xavier Thorn’s secretaries do not last a week.”

Claire nodded. “I told him the same.”

“Well, I am determined to change the record. I’m going to be the best secretary he has ever had.”

Gregory’s brow furrowed as he handed her a card taken from his pocket. “This arrived at eight this morning. I took the liberty of reading it, but decided you needed sleep more than lectures. You probably should have mentioned the job to me yesterday.”

Vic opened the note. In slashing pen strokes indicating great annoyance were the words:


It is time to work!!!!


“I had better change and go now,” Vic said.

Claire gripped Vic’s arm. “It’s nearly four. By the time you arrive, it will be time to come home. You should wait and arrive very early tomorrow morning.”

“I am sure you are right, but I am going now when I can honestly say I just received his summons. Such will not be the case if I arrive tomorrow morning.”



The Troublesome Apprentice



About the author liza


I’m tired of telling my proper bio. So you get the improper bio.

Liza O’Connor was raised by feral cats, which explains a great deal, such as why she has no manners, is always getting in trouble, and doesn’t behave like a proper author and give you a proper bio.

She is highly unpredictable, both in real life and her stories, and presently is writing humorous romances. Please buy these books, because otherwise, she’ll become grumpy and write troubled novels instead. They will likely traumatize you.

Mostly humorous books by Liza:

Saving Casey – Old woman reincarnates into troubled teen’s body. (Half funny/half traumatizing)

Ghost LoverTwo British brothers fall in love with the same young woman. Ancestral ghost is called in to fix the situation. There’s a ghost cat too. (Humorous Contemporary Romance)

A Long Road to Love Series: (Humorous Contemporary odd Romance)

Worst Week Ever — Laugh out loud week of disasters of Epic proportions.

Oh Stupid Heart — The heart wants what it wants, even if it’s impossible.

Coming to Reason — There is a breaking point when even a saint comes to reason.

Climbing out of Hell — The reconstruction of a terrible man into a great one.

Don’t Forget to enter to win one of the two $25 Amazon Gift Cards.

Enter Rafflecopter


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21 Responses to Liza O’Connor on James Barry and The Troublesome Apprentice

  1. Nicole Millheim says:

    This sounds so good


  2. ladymagnolia99 says:

    This looks like a fantastic read. Thanks for the great excerpt.

    Judy Cox


  3. Julia Tagan says:

    So fascinating! Really appreciate the post.


  4. karenlopp says:

    I enjoyed this post and excerpt, Liza.


  5. Bev says:

    I enjoyed the excerpt! Thanks so much for sharing!


  6. This was such a fun read! Tweeted.


  7. D'Ann says:

    Great information, Liza! Book looks great!


  8. melissakeir says:

    I imagine that Dr. Barry thought she had to disguise herself in order to be taken seriously and do the job she was meant to do. Too bad we can’t be more understanding these days. There are still people who think certain jobs are only “right” for a certain gender.

    All the best with your book. It sounds like a fab series!


  9. Rita Wray says:

    Great excerpt, thank you.


  10. Daisy Banks says:

    This is a great post and looks like a fabulous book. I enjoyed the read.


  11. lizaoconnor says:

    Thanks for having over. My fav part of the letters is when the char woman gets sassy with the doctor.


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