Edward Hincks was born in Cork on 19 August 1792. He was the eldest son of the Rev. Thomas Dix Hincks, a distinguished Protestant minister, orientalist and naturalist. Edward was an elder brother of Sir Francis Hincks - a prominent Canadian politician who was also sometime Governor of Barbados - and William Hincks, the first Professor of Natural History at Queen's College, Cork and afterwards University College, Toronto.
Edward Hincks was educated at home by his father before entering Trinity College, Dublin. He was elected a Scholar of the College in 1810, and in 1812 won the Gold Medal and Bishop Law's Prize for Mathematics. Standing against Thomas Romney Robinson, he won through and was elected a Fellow of the College in 1813 and four years later took his M.A. In 1819, following the death of Thomas Meredith, he was presented to the Rectory of Ardtrea in County Tyrone. Though Ardtrea was a valuable and highly prized Rectory, it was also isolated for a young bachelor and he resigned the position in 1826, taking up the Rectory in nearby Killyleagh, County Down - an office he was to hold for the remainder of his life.
The undemanding nature of his clerical duties left him with more than enough time to pursue his interest in ancient languages. His first love was for the hieroglyphic writing of ancient Egypt. By 1823 the Frenchman Jean-Francois Champollion had succeeded in deciphering this enigmatic script, but Hincks made a number of discoveries of his own which established him as an authority of ancient philology.