George Edwards was born in Clerkenwell in 1788. His mother was an alcoholic and for a while he lived with his father in Bristol. After returning to London he was apprenticed to a statue maker in Smithfield. According to people who knew him from this period, Edwards was very poor and often went about barefoot. In the 1790s Edwards was making plaster of Paris busts of famous people and selling them on street-corners. Edwards moved to Windsor where he rented a small shop in Eton High Street. One of his customers was Major-General Sir Herbert Taylor, who recruited him as a Home Office spy.
In 1818 Edwards moved back to London where he made friends with John Brunt, a member of the Spencean Philanthropists. Edwards appeared to hold radical political views and talked about wanting to kill members of the government. Brunt introduced Edwards to his radical friends and he was soon attending Spencean meetings. Edwards sent a constant flow of reports to the authorities. His accounts of the meetings, which are preserved in the Public Record Office, were written on narrow strips of paper that were then folded into a small square and passed to John Stafford, Chief Clerk at Bow Street Police Station.
Arthur Thistlewood and Edwards got on well together. Some of the group raised doubts about Edwards and suggested he might be a spy. On one occasion Edwards attempted to give one member, William Tunbridge, a pistol that he could use against the government. Tunbridge refused replying: "Mr. Edwards, you may tell your employers that they will not catch me in their trap." Thistlewood was convinced Edwards was genuine and in December 1819, he made him his aide-de-camp.
In 1820 Edwards played an active role in persuading people he met to join the Spencean Philanthropists. He also joined the Marylebone Union Reading Society where he recruited several new members to Thistlewood's group. At meetings Edwards constantly called for an armed uprising to overthrow the government. It was Edwards' idea to start the revolution by assassinating Lord Castlereagh and Lord Sidmouth. It was also Edwards who told Thistlewood about the item in the New Times that revealed that several members of the British government were going to have dinner at Lord Harrowby's house at 39 Grosvenor Square.
George Edwards kept John Stafford fully informed on the Cato Street Conspiracy and the authorities had no difficulty in arresting all the men involved in the plot. After the experience of the previous trial of the Spenceans, the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth was unwilling to use the evidence of his spies in court. Edwards, the person with a great deal of information on the conspiracy, was never called. In fact, by the time the trial took place, Edwards had already left the country.
After the execution of Arthur Thistlewood, William Davidson, James Ings, Richard Tidd, and John Brunt questions were raised in Parliament about the role played by Edwards in this case. On 2nd May, 1820, Matthew Wood stated in the House of Commons that he had information that revealed that Edwards was an agent provocateur who had organised the Cato Street Conspiracy himself and then betrayed it for 'Blood Money'. Joseph Hume complained that Edwards was one of several spies that the government had used to incite rebellion in an effort to smear the campaign for parliamentary reform.
During the trial of Arthur Thistlewood and the other conspirators, Edwards was living in Guernsey. This was only a temporary hiding place and after a short period in Guernsey the government arranged for him to obtain a new identity, and like several former government spies, George Edwards, now known as George Parker, was sent to South Africa. Edwards worked as a modeller at Green Point until his death on 30th November, 1843.
(1) Edward Aylmer, George Edwards (1820)
Edwards was not merely an informer, who appeared to accede to the plots of others for the purpose of revealing and defeating them: he was a diabolical wretch who created the treason he disclosed, who went about - a fiend in human form - inflaming distressed and desperate wretches into crimes, in order that he might betray them to justice and make profit of their blood.
(2) James Ings claimed in court that George Edwards had been an agent provocateur who had helped organise the conspiracy.
The Attorney-General knows Edwards. He knew all the plans for two months before I was acquainted with it. When I was before Lord Sidmouth, a gentleman said Lord Sidmouth knew all about this for two months. I consider myself murdered if Edwards is not brought forward. I am willing to die on the scaffold with him.
I conspired to put Lord Castlereagh and Lord Sidmouth out of this world, but I did not intend to commit High Treason. I did not expect to save my own life, but I was determined to die a martyr in my country's cause.
(3) George Edwards wrote a letter to Henry Hobhouse, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office, on 5th May, 1820.
According to your desire I gave all the papers I had in my possession together with the copy of Depositions to the gentleman you sent to me on Sunday evening last. I am now in the Isle of Guernsey and think I may remain here in perfect safety till you direct otherwise.
My money will be exhausted by the time I hear from you. I beg leave your benevolent attention to my family whom I am sure must want financial assistance by the time this letter reaches you. Whatever way you direct my wife to proceed in, she will get my brother to accomplish. All letters I receive from you shall be destroyed as soon as read.