Constantia author pens book on extraordinary doctor

Dr Michael du Preez with his wife, Angela, and their daughter, Camilla Mac Dowell, at the book launch at Buitenverwachting.

A Constantia couple, Dr Michael du Preez and his wife, Angela, have been enjoying the limelight after the success of his book telling the fascinating story of Dr James Barry.

Michael spoke at the South African launch of Dr James Barry: A Woman Ahead of her Time at Buitenverwachting last week.

The event was organised by Sandy Bailey, the organiser of Cape Town’s first lunch club, The Lady Cavendish.

Introducing the author, Sandy said: “His awe-inspiring detective work and research have made the book so much more than a biography of a very important woman.”

The book was launched in Britain in September and since then has been named the book of the week with BBC and The Times newspaper and is a best-seller on Amazon.

The meticulously researched book is 300 000 words. Michael soon realised he needed help with putting all the information together and that attitudes to biography had changed and a more narrative style was now used.

It was clear that he needed the collaboration of a professional and that’s where Jeremy Dromfield stepped in, steering the book through the minefield of the publishing process and contributing to the content with material Michael had been unable to access.

Notwithstanding, it still took three more years to see the light of day.

James Barry was born in 1789 and arrived at the Cape in late October 1816. He died at the age of 76. He was many things in his life: Inspector General of Hospitals, army surgeon, duellist, reformer, lady killer, eccentric. He performed the first successful caesarean delivery in the British Empire, outraged the military establishment, and gave Florence Nightingale a dressing down at Scutari.

At home he was surrounded by a menagerie of animals, including a cat, a goat, a parrot and a terrier. But, most astonishingly, long ago in Cork, Ireland, he had been a young girl and a mother.

Michael says there are over 1 200 references backing up often surprising – or almost incredible facts – each painstakingly researched by himself making Dr Barry’s biography the first written by a medically qualified person.

Sipping a crisp Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc , Angela said she had been very much a part of the book, choosing the title and now marketing it.

The couple have been married for 51 years.

Before he retired as a senior consultant urologist in 2001, Michael travelled extensively to places such as Saudi Arabia, the Azores, Bahrain and the Aeolian Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily. He played golf for UCT, studied heraldry and made historical church brass rubbings, and he still plays the cello. But his greatest passion was yachting – he sailed in Turkish waters for many seasons.

Asked what next he laughed and said Barry is the subject of not only his latest book, but his only book.

Angela said she and Michael had met in Devon where he was a surgical registrar.

“He proposed three months later. The following day, he took me to Land’s End, pointed south across the ocean and said your future lies there.” They have lived in Cape Town ever since. The Thursday Club is a lunch club that meets most months and hosts an informative speaker.

Membership is free. To find out more, contact Sandy at
021 685 8016 or