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SAMPSON, JAMES, physician, educator, and public servant; b. 1789 at Banbridge, County Down (Northern Ireland), one of six children of Alicia Brush and the Reverend William Sampson; m. 10 May 1817 Eliza Chipman Winslow, daughter of Chief Justice Edward Winslow* of New Brunswick, and they had six children; d. 9 Nov. 1861 at Kingston, Canada West.

James Sampson was educated in Dublin and was trained at Middlesex Hospital and at York Hospital in Chelsea. He was appointed assistant surgeon to the 85th Foot in June 1811 and was dispatched to Canada. In March 1812 he was transferred to the Royal Newfoundland Fencible Infantry and served with this unit during the War of 1812. His surgical skill was of special value at Sackets Harbor in May 1813. In August 1814 Sampson was part of a small force commanded by Lieutenant Miller Worsley which eluded the American ships at the mouth of the Nottawasaga and reached Fort Mackinac at the head of Lake Huron; Sampson lost his surgical kit with the destruction of the schooner Nancy at Nottawasaga on 14 August. At Mackinac Worsley organized an attack force in four canoes which captured the United States schooner Tigress on 3 September and, still flying American colours, seized the Scorpion on 6 September. In August 1815 Sampson was transferred to the 104th Foot which did garrison duty at Quebec and Montreal in 1815 and 1816. His unit was disbanded in May 1817, at which time he married and went on half pay.

Fellow officers persuaded Sampson to take up private practice in Niagara in 1817. He later lived for a short time in Queenston and moved to Kingston in September 1820 to join the town’s 14 civilian and military doctors. Sampson’s ability, education, and personality soon made him a highly regarded surgeon and member of the community. His tall and magnificent appearance gave him a special kind of prominence among his fellow practitioners. His acquaintance with politically important men such as Samuel Peters Jarvis*, Christopher Hagerman*, John Macaulay*, and Charles Grant, Baron de Longueuil, gained him positions of importance, including an appointment as magistrate of the Midland District in August 1821. It is said that when Sampson was recalled to active duty in 1825 his friends and patients persuaded him to stay in Kingston by guaranteeing him a regular income through a yearly fee from each family as compensation for his half pay. He was consulting surgeon to governors general Sydenham [Thomson*], Charles Bagot*, and Charles Metcalfe* in Kingston from 1841 to 1844, and was a personal friend of Sydenham. In 1847 he received an honorary md from McGill University.

Sampson was one of the three commissioners appointed by the assembly in January 1832 to superintend the building of a charity hospital for the sick poor in Kingston. The hospital was built by 1835 but no money was left for equipment, maintenance, or staff, and it remained empty until it served as the parliament building of the Province of Canada from 1841 to 1844, when Kingston was the capital. From 1845, when it opened as a charity hospital, Sampson was the chief surgeon, and he was soon faced by an influx of indigent immigrant patients during the typhus epidemic of 1847. He became the first elected chairman of the board of governors of the Kingston General Hospital in 1857 after a period of mismanagement, which meant reorganizing, with the assistance of some young doctors, the medical and financial operations of the hospital. He was also consulting surgeon to Hotel Dieu Hospital.

As a practising physician and member of the Medical Board of Upper Canada from 1822 until his death, Sampson trained and examined medical students and was acutely aware of the need for better training facilities. In 1854 he was chairman of the committee which organized the medical faculty at Queen’s College, and was president of the faculty from 1854 to 1860 and professor of clinical and medical surgery.

Sampson was the first surgeon to the provincial penitentiary near Kingston from 1835 to 1861, and a leader in penitentiary reform. He objected to public viewing of prisoners and punishment of the mentally ill, and fought for the separation of the latter from criminals. In 1839 Sampson was on a commission of three appointed to erect a provincial lunatic asylum, but resigned when Toronto was chosen as the site. In 1848 conditions at the prison impelled him to ask the government to investigate the administration. The parliamentary commission, whose secretary was George Brown*, revealed inhumane treatment of prisoners and its recommendations led to the dismissal of Warden Henry Smith and his son Frank [see Henry Smith]. Sampson encouraged local groups to send visitors to the prison and he assisted released prisoners.

Sampson held various government appointments: magistrate of the Court of Quarter Sessions, associate judge of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, and in 1838 commissioner for the improvement of navigation on the St Lawrence River. Because his poor patients paid nothing and the wealthy ones at their leisure, he supplemented his income as inspector of licences from 1829 to 1849. Other responsibilities included service on the Midland District Grammar School Board and the Kingston Board of Health. In September 1839 he was elected mayor of Kingston after Henry Cassidy’s sudden death, and was re-elected in March 1840. He refused a third term in 1841. During the 18 months of his mayoralty, Kingston became the capital and suffered a great fire and a serious housing shortage. Sampson’s next term as mayor in 1844 witnessed the departure of parliament, bitter recriminations from citizens who had empty new buildings and bankrupt businesses, widespread unemployment, and a huge civic debt for the new and unoccupied town hall. The city council had confrontations with butchers who refused to rent stalls in the new market wing, with building contractors who had not been paid, and with officials such as Robert Baldwin*, R. B. Sullivan*, and Francis Hincks* who left Kingston without paying their taxes. The duties of mayor became too onerous for a busy doctor like Sampson; he resigned after he was bitterly attacked for including a few Catholics among the 25 constables appointed to police the Orangemen’s 12th of July parade.

As an avocation James Sampson had an experimental farm from 1832, offering his prize wheat as free seed and his prize sheep for breeding. In the 1830s and 1840s he held high offices in the Midland District Agricultural Society and in such social organizations as the Turf Club and the St Patrick’s Society.

During the rebellion of 1837 Sampson had been commander of the town guard until the militia was called up, and as major of the 3rd Regiment of Frontenac militia he was a member of the court martial at Fort Henry which condemned Nils von Schoultz* to be hanged. He resigned as major in October 1839.

Sampson had little interest in politics but an absorbing interest in the welfare of the poor and oppressed and in the improvement of medical training. He had unlimited patience with the sick and mentally ill, and no patience with humbug or dishonesty.

Margaret S. Angus

Fenwick, Hale, and Sampson family papers are in the possession of Stephanie Hensley, London, Ont. Kingston General Hospital Archives (Kingston, Ont.), Papers and records, 1832–61. MTCL, Samuel Peters Jarvis papers, James Sampson to S. P. Jarvis, 24 Feb. 1820–23 Nov. 1823. PAC, RG 16, A1, 16, 7 and 15 July 1828; 17, 5 March 1829. QUA, Gibson coll., Queen’s Medical Faculty, minutes, 1854–61; Kingston Town Council, proceedings, 1838–45. UNBL, MG H2, Penelope Winslow to Eliza Sampson, 25 Feb. 1817. Argus; a Commercial, Agricultural, Political, and Literary Journal (Kingston, [Ont.]), 5 Sept. 1848. British American Journal Devoted to the Advancement of the Medical and Physical Sciences in the British-American Provinces (Montreal), II (1861), 520–22. British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science (Montreal), III (1847–48), 53. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1849, III, app.B.B.B.B.B. Chronicle & Gazette (Kingston), 22 Aug. 1838–18 May 1844. Chronicle and News (Kingston), 31 Jan., 4 July 1849. Daily British Whig (Kingston), 3 May, 23 July 1844; 11 Nov. 1861. Kingston Chronicle, 25 April 1829, 12 March 1830, 17 Sept. 1831, 21 Jan. 1832. Michigan Pioneer Coll. (Lansing, Mich.), XV (1890), 635 (Sampson’s claim for loss of articles on Nancy). G.B., WO, Army list, 1811–17. William Johnston, Roll of commissioned officers in the medical service of the British army . . . (Aberdeen, Scot., 1917). Canniff, Medical profession in U.C., 610–11. Margaret [Sharp] Angus, Kingston General Hospital, 1832–1972, a social and institutional history (Montreal and London, 1973).

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Cite This Article

Margaret S. Angus, “SAMPSON, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 22, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sampson_james_9E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sampson_james_9E.html
Author of Article:   Margaret S. Angus
Title of Article:   SAMPSON, JAMES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   September 22, 2023