Newell, Edward John (1771–98), United Irishman and informer, was born at Downpatrick, Co. Down, on 29 June 1771. His family were of Scottish descent. After going briefly to sea he was apprenticed to a painter and glazier. He tried the trade of glass-stainer in Dublin and Limerick with little success, eventually returning to Dublin, where he became a Defender. Early in 1796 he settled in Belfast as a portrait and miniature painter and was sworn a United Irishman. On 13 April 1797 and later, enraged by unwarranted aspersions on his commitment to the United cause, he gave information to an under-secretary at Dublin Castle, Edward Cooke (qv). During the next few months, as a lieutenant in the 9th light dragoons on the staff of Lord Carhampton (qv), with his face blackened or masked with a handkerchief, Newell went on raids of United Irish meetings in and around Belfast, bringing about (by his own account) 227 arrests. He alerted the authorities to disaffection among the militia stationed at Blaris camp, in consequence of which several soldiers were executed for treason in May 1797. But in February 1798, unwilling to give evidence openly, he reverted to his former allegiance.
His apologia, The apostacy of Newell (April or May 1798), is informative on connections between Defenders and United Irishmen. According to James Hope (qv), Newell was procured as an informer by George Murdoch, a hearth-tax collector near Belfast. Later, a ‘criminal correspondence’ having been discovered between Newell and Murdoch's wife, Murdoch shot at Newell, for which, however, he suffered only a few days’ imprisonment. About June 1798 Newell's friends gave him money to leave for America but, wishing Mrs Murdoch to accompany him, he hesitated. After leaving his lodging at Donegore, Co. Antrim, one evening with ‘two professed friends’ he was never seen again and was believed murdered (Madden). Newell's portrait, from a sketch of his own, was prefixed to his autobiography and reproduced by Madden. His father, Robert, and his brother, also Robert, an attorney's apprentice in Dublin, disapproved of his betrayal of his United Irish associates.