Newell, Edward John (DNB00)

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NEWELL, EDWARD JOHN (1771–1798), Irish informer, of Scottish parentage, was born on 29 June 1771, at Downpatrick. He tells us that he ran away from home when he was seventeen and became a sailor, making a short voyage to Cadiz. In a year he returned home, and after serving as apprentice to a painter and glazier, followed the trade of a glass-stainer for two years, but failed in attempts to start business in Dublin and Limerick. Early in 1796 he went to Belfast, and practised the profession of portrait-painting in miniature. There he joined the United Irishmen, and worked for the cause for thirteen months, neglecting his business in his enthusiasm. He was, however, distrusted by some of the leaders, and in revenge, as he admits, became an informer. Early in 1797 he was taken to Edward Cooke [q. v.], under-secretary of state for Ireland, and gave him a great deal of information, most of which he avowedly invented, although he charges the under-secretary with adding names to the list of innocent people which he himself supplied. Cooke sent him to Newry, where General Gerard Lake [q. v.] was then stationed, directing the latter to treat him well and follow Newell's advice. He was lavishly supplied with money, all of which he confesses to have spent in debauchery. When examined before a secret committee of the Irish House of Commons, on 3 May 1797, he was ‘with great ceremony placed in a high chair, for the benefit of being better heard,’ and coolly admits that he deliberately exaggerated, ‘and fabricated stories which helped to terrify them’ (Life and Confessions, 1846? pp. 42–43). While in Dublin Newell lodged in Dublin Castle. Early in 1798 he pretended to feel remorse for his treachery, and announced to Cooke his intention of giving up his employment as a spy. It was arranged that he should go to England, with a pension, on 16 Feb. 1798, and settle in Worcester, under the name of Johnston, ostensibly to carry on his profession as a painter. Shortly after the final interview with Cooke he brought out ‘The Life and Confessions of Newell, the Informer,’ which purports to be written and printed in England. But it was privately printed at Belfast, by a printer named Storey, and Newell was then in that city. He confessed to receiving 2,000l. as a reward ‘for having been the cause of confining 227 innocent men to languish in either the cell of a bastile or the hold of a tender, and, as I have heard, has been the cause of many of their deaths’ (Life and Confessions). The work, which is unquestionably genuine, was dedicated to John Fitzgibbon, earl of Clare, and contains a portrait of the author by himself. It aroused much attention, and had a large sale.

Newell finally prepared to leave for America, taking with him the wife of an acquaintance whom he had persuaded to elope, but he was assassinated in June 1798 by those whom he had betrayed. He was induced, it is said, to go out in a boat to meet the ship which was to convey him to America, and is supposed to have been thrown into the sea. Another account says he was shot on the road near Roughford, and a third that he was drowned at Garnogle. Madden gives some particulars of the finding of bones thought to be Newell's on the beach at Ballyholme, ten miles from Belfast (United Irishmen, 2nd ser. i. 352).

[Froude's English in Ireland, iii. 245, where the name is wrongly given as ‘Nevile;’ Life and Confessions of Newell the Informer, 1798; Fitzpatrick's Secret Service under Pitt, 1892, pp. 12, 104, 173; Madden's Lives of United Irishmen, 2nd ser. i. 347 et seq.]

D. J. O'D.