Getty, Edmund (1799–1857), antiquarian, was born 2 March 1799 in North St., Belfast, youngest and only surviving son among four sons of Robert Getty (1761–1829), merchant, and his wife Susanna (d. 1802), eldest daughter of Nicholas Grimshaw of Whitehouse, cotton spinner and a leading figure in the Belfast cotton industry. Robert Getty was born in North St. in 1761, son of Robert Getty (d. 1774), woollen draper, and his wife Ann (1726–1822), daughter of John Sitlington, a leading member of the linen trade. Robert was introduced to the commercial life of Belfast by William and John Brown, merchants to whom he was apprenticed, and who later became his financial backers when he began trading on his own as a general provision merchant and importer of teas with premises at 16 North St. Becoming one of the most prominent citizens of Belfast in his day, he was also a founder member of the first locally based insurance company, the Belfast General, which was established in 1791.
Robert Getty was an ardent supporter of parliamentary reform and catholic emancipation. Despite his radicalism, he does not seem to have been actively involved with the United Irishmen. However, in 1798 he was involved in a controversy over the custody of two pieces of field artillery, which had previously belonged to the Belfast Volunteers but had gone missing. The authorities, anxious that the weapons should not fall into the hands of the United Irishmen, believed that he was responsible for their disappearance. He was arrested and held for several days until, through the intervention of the crown solicitor, it was accepted that the missing weapons had been removed without his knowledge. Years later it was revealed that he had been framed and betrayed by James McGuckin (qv), the Fountain St. attorney and informer. Unlike many other protestant radicals of the merchant class, he continued his campaign for catholic emancipation well into the nineteenth century. He was a founder member of the Belfast Academical Institution, the Belfast Reading Society, and the Belfast chamber of commerce. Robert Getty died 16 August 1829.
His father's interest in culture ensured that Edmund received a good education. He initially attended the Belfast Academy and entered the Belfast Academical Institution in his teens. After a short period in his father's trade he entered the Belfast Ballast Board, and was promoted to ballast master in 1837. He supervised major improvements to Belfast harbour and docks. In 1840–41 William Dargan (qv) made the first deep-water channel to the sea; the material dredged up was used to form the Queen's Island, which was later the site of the Harland & Wolff shipyard. In 1849, after he had been appointed secretary to the Belfast harbour commissioners (1847), Getty oversaw the digging of the Victoria Channel. In 1851 he was instrumental in laying out a public park on the Queen's Island, with an exhibition building modelled on the Crystal Palace in London, though on a more modest scale and never very successful.
He took a keen interest in antiquarian studies and was a prominent member of the Belfast Natural History Society (vice-president, 1831) and the Belfast Literary Society (president, 1830–31, 1844–5). Between 1822 and 1841 he gave over twenty papers to the BNHS on topics such as the principal plants used in manufactures, silkworms, ornithology, as well as topographical studies of local areas. He helped establish the society's museum in 1831 and throughout his life campaigned for greater coordination and cooperation between the literary and scientific institutions of Belfast.
In 1841 he excavated the round tower at Drumbo, Co. Down, with the assistance of the Rev. Horatio Maunsell. A skeleton was uncovered during these researches, which led to his interest in collecting specimens of Irish crania. He was elected MRIA on 13 January 1845. Later that year he travelled with John Grattan (qv) and George Hyndham to Tory Island, where they began excavating the round tower. In 1853, with his close friend Robert Shipboy MacAdam (qv), he helped establish the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, where he published accounts of his researches on Tory. He also published a novel, The last king of Ulster (1841), and a monograph on his collection of Chinese seals, Notices of Chinese seals found in Ireland (1852). His History of Belfast harbour (compiled and published for the admiralty in 1852) was intended as an introduction to a more extensive work on the history and antiquities of the baronies around Belfast, which was never completed. Getty died 4 December 1857 suddenly of a heart attack in London. He was unmarried.
His published articles in the UJA are ‘The island of Tory; its history and antiquities’, i (1853), 27–33, 106–16, 142–58; ‘The true position of the ford of Belfast’, iii (1855), 300–15; and ‘Notices of the round towers of Ulster’, iii (1855), 14–32, 110–16. An article on his grandmother's family, ‘The Sitlington family of Dunagor, Co. Antrim’, was published posthumously in UJA, xv, no. 4 (November 1909), 161–6. The papers of the Getty family are held at the PRONI.