Charles Dickens on Kingston Penitentiary

May, 1842
Charles Dickens on Kingston PenitentiaryPinterest
Kingston Penitentiary circa 1906. Source: Library and Archives Canada.
Charles Dickens on Fort HenryPinterest
Charles Dickens. Jeremiah Gurney, Heritage Auction Gallery.

On his 1842 visit to Kingston, Charles Dickens made the following observations, recorded in American Notes, about Kingston Penitentiary:

"There is an admirable jail here, well and wisely governed, and excellently regulated in every respect. The men were employed as shoemakers, ropemakers, Black­ smiths, tailors, carpenters, and stonecutters; and in building a new prison, which was pretty far advanced towards completion. The female prisoners were occupied in needlework. Among them was a beautiful girl of twenty, who had been there nearly three years. She acted as bearer of secret despatches for the self-led Patriots on Navy Island during the Canadian Insurrection: sometimes dressing as a girl, and carrying them in her stays; sometimes attiring herself as a boy, and secreting them in the lining of her hat. In the latter character she always rode as a boy would, which was nothing to her, for she could govern any horse that any man could ride, and could drive four-in-hand with the best whip in those parts. Setting forth on one of her patriotic missions, she appropriated to herself the first horse she could lay her hands on; and this offence had brought her where I saw her. She had quite a lovely face, though, as the reader may suppose from this sketch of her history, there was a lurking devil in her bright eye, which looked out pretty sharply from between her prison bars."