James Sampson had a significant impact on Kingston’s history and development. He was born in Banbridge, Northern Ireland, and educated in Dublin. He became assistant surgeon for the British Army in 1811 and was sent to Canada to assist with the War of 1812. His unit was dissolved after the war, so he accepted half pay, married, and retired from the army.
Following his military career, he came to Kingston in 1820. In January 1832, he was commissioned by the legislative assembly to help supervise the construction of a charity hospital. Though construction was completed in 1835, the committee did not have funds to furnish the hospital until 1845. In the meantime, the building had served as Canada’s first parliament building from 1841 to 1844! Sampson was chief surgeon at what became Kingston General Hospital, where he was challenged by a wave of typhus-infected immigrants during the epidemic of 1847.
Sampson was vital in establishing Queen’s University’s medical faculty in 1854 and served as chair of the program until 1860. Additionally, he was the first surgeon at the Kingston Penitentiary from 1835 to 1861, and fought to improve living conditions and standards for prisoner health. Namely, he spoke against punishment for the mentally ill, and thought they should be separated from other prisoners for specialized treatment.
Sampson was elected mayor of Kingston in 1839 and served a second term in 1840. During his mayoralty, Kingston suffered several challenges, including a particularly damaging fire, a housing shortage, and widespread unemployment. He did not return for a third term!
Throughout his life, Sampson freely advocated and actively worked with the sick and disadvantaged, and was known to be endlessly honest and patient. He certainly made a mark on Kingston’s history!
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