Hincks, Edward (1792–1866), Church of Ireland clergyman, Egyptologist and Assyriologist, was born 19 August 1792 at Princes Street, Cork, the eldest of the eight children (five sons and three daughters) of Thomas Dix Hincks (qv), a presbyterian minister, and his wife Anne (née Boult) of Chester. One of his brothers, William Hincks (qv), became professor of natural history at Queen's College Cork, and later at University College, Toronto. His youngest brother, Francis Hincks (qv), was a leading politician in Canada.
Edward Hincks was educated first at home by his father and then at Midleton College, Co. Cork. Entering Trinity College Dublin (TCD) (2 November 1807), he was elected a scholar (1810), and graduated Bachelor of Arts with the gold medal (1812). He was elected a junior fellow in 1813 and ordained priest in 1817. During his years at Trinity he was an assistant librarian and his interest in the Egyptian manuscripts probably marked the beginning of his Egyptological studies; he later published a catalogue of the library's Egyptian manuscripts (1843). In 1819 Hincks became rector of Ardtrea, Co. Tyrone. On 6 February 1823 he married Jane Dorothea Boyd; they had four daughters. In October 1825 he was appointed rector of Killyleagh, Co. Down and moved there in March 1826. He took the degrees of Bachelor of Divinity in 1823 and Doctor of Divinity in 1829. As a churchman he was not afraid to express his views and published a devastating condemnation of the ‘revival movement’ that swept Ulster in 1859.
Hincks was one of the great pioneers in the decipherment of ancient near eastern languages. As early as 1833, ten years after Champollion had deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, Hincks published a paper ‘On the Enchorial language of Egypt’ in the Dublin University Review. Some years later he recognised the relationship between Egyptian and the Semitic languages. Beginning in 1838, many of his papers on ancient near eastern subjects appeared in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. As early as 1842 he published important observations on the defacement of divine and royal names on Egyptian monuments. In 1846 Hincks showed a masterly control of Old Persian in his review of H. C. Rawlinson's edition of the Persian cuneiform inscription at Behistun. His greatest contribution, however, was the decipherment of Mesopotamian cuneiform, the writing system used for Akkadian, Elamite and Urartian.
Contrary to widespread belief, he anticipated Henry Creswicke Rawlinson in the most important elements of the decipherment of Mesopotamian cuneiform. In a paper read to the Royal Irish Academy on 9 June 1846, he announced his progress and the results of his research in cuneiform were published in a series of brilliant papers between 1846 and 1852. His publications soon brought him into contact with distinguished scholars abroad, including Georg Friedrich Grotefend, Heinrich Brugsch and Christian Lassen. A German version of his 1846 paper on ‘The first and second kinds of Persepolitan writing’ was published in 1850. In 1851 he identified the name of the Israelite king, ‘Jehu son of Omri’, on the Black Obelisk of the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III, which was discovered by A. H. Layard in 1846. In 1857 he was one of the four scholars who participated in the public exercise to test the decipherment of Mesopotamian cuneiform.
In 1859 Hincks began friendly correspondence with Peter le Page Renouf (qv), a native of Guernsey, who was professor of ancient history and oriental languages in the Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin; in 1863 he published an important paper on cuneiform decipherment in The Atlantis, a journal co-edited by Renouf for his university. Much preoccupied with Egyptian and Mesopotamian chronology and astronomy during the last years of his life, Hincks died 3 December 1866 at the Rectory in Killyleagh. There is a portrait in TCD and a bust in Cairo Museum.