Trevor, Edward (c.1765–1837), doctor, controller of Kilmainham jail, and medical inspector of convicts, was probably born in Co. Down; details of his early life are sparse, and nothing is known of his parents. Hostile references to low birth and military service in the ranks, according to pamphlets published (1807–10) by barrister and former state prisoner St John Mason (qv), suggest he was a self-made man, an opportunist who prospered in a Georgian demi-monde of professional ambiguity. Trevor's medical career, variously given as apothecary, physician, surgeon and inspector, appears to have evolved without formal qualifications. The Dublin Directory for 1788–1837 sketches his progress. In 1788 ‘A. Trevor’ was listed as apothecary to the Infirmary, Arbour Hill, subsequently to the Royal Military Infirmary (latterly occupied by the Department of Defence), the hospital newly designed by James Gandon (qv) beside the Phoenix Park. There he served until at least 1802, by which time he was ‘Edward Trevor’. He also served from 1802 to c.1828 as surgeon to the Hibernian Society's school within the park for children and orphans of the army in Ireland. His identity as a medical doctor, both surgeon and physician, is intermittent and interchangeable, as with much of his professional career.
Trevor is named in 1797 as a physician with an address at the Phoenix Park and in 1798 as a surgeon, his address Montpelier Hill, adjacent to the Royal (latterly Collins) Barracks and Arbour Hill. In 1800 he was ‘assistant surgeon’ at the Phoenix Park. A graduate of neither the RCPI nor the RCSI, he might, like some so-called surgeons of the time, have acquired his expertise in the shadow of a barber's pole or, as a soldier, through talent displayed in the field. Trevor's pharmaceutical credentials may have been less uncertain: St John Mason mentions his apprenticeship to an apothecary in Bridge St., for a promised fee rather than any innate ability. Trevor is listed in the first volume of Peterkin & Johnson, Medical officers in the British army (1968), as ‘apothecary to her majesty's infirmaries in Dublin, 12 July 1800’.
Between 1810 and 1837 Trevor's Directory status as a practising physician remained unbroken, with an address at 6 Fitzgibbon St., Dublin, which he shared with his wife and children. However, ‘Doctor Trevor’ had a parallel reputation, preserved in subsequent nationalist mythology, as a monster of rare iniquity who enjoyed excessive freedom of authority in conditions so bizarre as to seem fictional. He was appointed medical supervisor in 1797 of the new Dublin county jail at Kilmainham. His ostensibly pastoral role as carer of inmates appears to have descended unchecked into despotism. The disturbed political condition of Ireland in 1797–1803 enabled him to take virtual control of the jail. He subverted the official authority of George Dunn the jailer, who became a henchman with whom he reputedly ‘shared’ a wife. Trevor was accused in petitions by articulate state prisoners of degrading treatment and deliberate humiliation of inmates, including the mixing of political prisoners with regular criminals. He even established himself, for personal profit, as the official baker to Kilmainham jail. He allegedly sought business partners about 1802, who later claimed he had threatened to flog menial staff at the garrison bakery located in Barrack St.
St John Mason, lawyer and cousin of Robert Emmet (qv), was in Trevor's custody as a state prisoner following Emmet's rebellion in July 1803. He subsequently pilloried him in his polemic Pedro Zendono, inquisitor of Kilmainham (1807). Official witness statements by former state prisoners, compiled by Mason in 1808, provide the chief record of Trevor's alleged cruelties, vividly told in Pedro redivivus: prison abuses in Ireland (1810). He dedicated the volume to Richard Brinsley Sheridan (qv), MP, whose parliamentary statement of 2 July 1808 exposed Trevor's torment of state prisoners at Kilmainham during 1803–5. His victims (and subsequent accusers), whom he had wanted to turn informer, included James Tandy (qv) and Anne Devlin (qv), imprisoned with her family, of whom a young brother, James, died of fever. Such public knowledge may have thwarted Trevor's attempt in 1808 to be appointed inspector general of prisons.
While exercising a regime of psychological control and physical terror within Kilmainham jail, Trevor would temporarily send wilful inmates such as Anne Devlin to the dilapidated old jail nearby to break their spirit. A servant and follower of Robert Emmet, Devlin refused throughout her long and inhumane confinement by Trevor even to acknowledge Emmet, for fear of betraying him. In frustration, Trevor cursed her as a ‘rebelly bitch’. Ingratiating himself instead with the credulous Emmet on the eve of his execution, 19–20 September 1803, Trevor persuaded Emmet to entrust him with his last letters which, predictably, went to Dublin Castle. In July 1804 a three-day judges’ investigation of Trevor's alleged conduct at Kilmainham resulted in acknowledgement of his unpopularity but recommended no more than improvements in conditions at the jail. The failure of official complaints in 1808 prompted accusations of collusion and friendship between Trevor and members of the investigating commission. Trevor dismissed the opinion of detractors and maintained he was following orders. Having already served in Kilmainham as medical inspector of convicts, he moved from there to Cork in 1817 as supervisor of convicts bound for Australia, but retained enough influence at Kilmainham to be accused in 1832 of fixing commercial contracts there. Although occasional allusions to compassion for the plight of ordinary criminals peppered his otherwise unfavourable record, the living conditions of convicts had become so foul by 1836 that the reformist under-secretary for Ireland, Thomas Drummond (qv), closed the notorious prison hulks as partial remedy for a system of neglect.
Trevor accumulated sufficient personal income to make his family comfortable and possibly more respectable than he himself had been. He died 19 February 1837, his estate amounting to £36,000. His widow, Mary (maiden name unknown), died on 13 March 1842. His eldest son, Edward, became a major-general and died in Plymouth in 1878; a younger son, Arthur Hill Trevor, was a major. He was buried in the Trevor vault beneath St Paul's church, North King St., Dublin. The vault was forensically examined in 1903 to determine if a headless cadaver there might be that of Robert Emmet, concealed after his execution. Its subsequent disappearance perpetuated the fascination surrounding both Edward Trevor and Robert Emmet.