George Edwards: the Bedell and his birds

George Edwards: the Bedell and his birds


By A Stuart Mason MD FRCP

George Edwards was one of the leading etchers, colourists and commentators on natural history of the eighteenth century. He was also the Bedell (or beadle) of the Royal College of Physicians for 27 years - where his duties included buying the candles - and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

The story of this talented and complex man is told against the rich background of a time of exciting scientific discovery when the nobility and learned men from many disciplines, especially from medicine were 'enquiring into nature' by travelling, collecting and recording natural objects - particularly birds and animals.

Edwards taught himself to etch. He turned his home at the College into a studio, the College itself into a menagerie and, encouraged by Sir Hans Sloane, President of the College and of the Royal Society, and others, set about producing his great works, A Natural History of Birds and Gleanings of Natural History, in which he illustrates and vividly describes birds, animals and insects brought to him from around the world.

The book is illustrated by eighteenth century engravings and includes eight colour plates of Edwards' work as well as extracts from his writing. It is a sparkling piece of history which encompasses many great names of the eighteenth century, gives a fascinating insight into the life of the College and charts the extraordinary achievement of a richly gifted but humble man.


  • Forward - Sir Cyril Clarke, FRS
  • Introduction
  • Edward's early life
  • The Royal College of Physicians
  • The book published
  • The world of collectors
  • Work with the physicians
  • Changing times
  • The last book
  • The Bedell resigns
  • The last years
  • Edward's words
  • Notes and references

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George Edwards: the Bedell and his birds