Barry Edward O’Meara

CriticismCommentary

Life
1786-1836; b. Newtownpark Hse., Blackrock; asst. surgeon with [British] Army in Egypt and Sicily, 1804; dismissed for duelling, at Mesina, 1807; service as naval surgeon, 1808; serving on HMS Bellerephon when Napoleon surrendered; surgeon to Napoleon in St. Helena by request of the Emperor; conversed with Napoleon and gleaned the latter’s views on politics, love and warfare, which he carefully transcribed on return to his quarters;
 
on refusing to report private conversations, he was dismissed by Sir Hudson Lowe, the Irish-born governor of the island, purportedly for intrigues with Napoleon - i.e., spying, 1818; criticised by some for representing Napoleon creditably back in London, but eulogised by Byron in Age of Bronze; issued Napoleon in Exile, or a Voice from St. Helena (1822), five edns. to 1827, and an immediate French translation;
 
fnd.-mbr. of the Reform Club; also publ. Observations on the Authenticity of Bourienne’s ‘Memoirs’ (1831); d. from cold caught at a Daniel O’Connell monster-meeting; Kathleen O’Meara [q.v.] was his dg. ODNB DIB

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Works
  • Letters from the Cape of Good Hope, in reply to Mr. Warden [in his Letters written on board the Northumberland and at St. Helena] with extracts from the great work [Historical memoirs] now compiling for publication under the inspection of Napoleon [3rd Edn.] (London 1817), and Do. (NY: C. Wiley 1817), iv, [5]-186pp. [and see J. W. Croker in Notes, infra];
  • [freq. attrib.], An Exposition of Some of the Transactions that have taken place at St. Helena, since the appointment of Sir Hudson Lowe as Governor, in answer to an anonymous pamphlet [by T. E. Hook] entitled “Facts illustrative of the treatment of Napoleon Bonaparte” [2nd edn.] (London: James Ridgeway 1819), xiv, 215pp.
  • Napoleon in Exile: or, A Voice from St. Helena, being the opinions & reflections of Napoleon, on the most important events of his life & government, in his own words, by Barry E. O’Meara ... his late surgeon, 2 vols. [6th edn] (London: Jones and Co. 1827, 1834), xxviii, 512pp., frontis., 8°. Another edn. 1888 [called 5th edn.]; also Do., 2 vols. [facs. of 1853 NY Edn.] (NY: Ams Press 1969);
  • Observations upon the Authenticity of Bourrienne’s Memoirs of Napoleon, by Barry E. O. Meara (London: James Ridgway 1831), [2], 35, [1]pp.
 
See also various compilations such as Documens particuliers, en forme de lettres, sur Napoléon Bonaparte, sur plusieurs de ses actes jusqu’ici inconnus ou mal interprêtés; et sur le caractère de différens personnages qui ont marqué sous son règne, tels que Talleyrand, De Pradt, Moreau, &c. [incl. O’Meara] (Bruxelles 1819), 149pp..

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Criticism
Hubert O’Connor, The Emperor and the Irishman: Napoleon and Dr Barry O’Meara on St Helena (Dublin: A. & A. Farmar 2008), 256pp.

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Commentary
Charles Lysaght, ed., Great Irish Lives [Times Books], HarperCollins 2008, Introduction: ‘Historically, Irish obituaries in the Times reflected the somewhat trouble relationship that the paper had with Ireland from the days of Daniel O’Connell up to the creation of the Irish state. The difficulties [...] might be traced back even further to the incident when Irishman Barry O’Meara, who had been removed by the British Government from his role as physician to the captive Napoleon on St. Helena, horse-whipped William Walter, mistaking him for his brother John who was one of the proprietors and the responsible editor of the paper [The Times]. O’Meara had been affronted because The Times had dismissed as a lie a statement in his memoirs that he had been told by the deposed Emperor that The Times was in the pay of the exiled Bourbons. It ended up in court with O’Meara getting away with a fulsome apology.’ (p.x.)

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References
Henry Boylan, Dictionary of Irish Biography (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1988): Asst. surg. British Army, 1804; assisted duel and left army, 1808; navy appointment; served HMS Bellerophon when Napoleon surrendered himself on board, 14 July 1815, and asked to accompany him to St. Helena; refused to report Napoleon’s conversation to the governor Sir Hudson Lowe [also Irish, q.v. DIB] and dismissed 1818; wrote Napoleon in Exile, or A Voice from St Helena (1822), denouncing Lowe, 5 edns.; died of erysipelas, London, said to have been caught at one of O’Connell’s meetings; fnd-member Reform Club.

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Notes
J. W. Croker [q.v.] wrote a hostile review of [i.e., riposte to] his Napoleon in Exile: A Voice from St. Helena, in Quarterly Review (London 1823). In reviewing his Letters from the Cape of Good Hope, in reply to Mr. Warden (London 1817), Croker wrote: ‘The author ... is a Frenchman, and no other, we are satisfied, than the notorious Count de Las Cas[a]s.’ (Quarterly Review, vol. XVII [1817], p.507.)

Sir Hudson Lowe: Lowe was born in Galway, the son of an Scottish army surgeon and an Irish mother; he surrendered the garrison at Capri to Napoleon with cannon and 1,400 men at his command, and was castigated by Sir William Napier for losing in a few days what could have been defended for as many years. Wellington considered him ‘a very bad choice’ for the post at St. Helena, in which he succeeded Sir George Cockburn: ‘he was a man wanting in education and judgement. He was a stupid man, who knew nothing of the world ... and he was suspicious and jealous ... I always thought that Lowe was t he most unfit person to be charged with the care of Bonaparte’s person.’ (See review of Hubert O'Connor, The Emperor and the Irishman, in Books Ireland, April 2009, p.79.)

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Theatre buff: A copy of Leigh Hunt’s Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres (1807), formerly owned by Barry O’Meara, is held in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Kensington. [See COPAC.]