Edward Newman was born in Partick, Glasgow, Scotland, on 4 July 1858, the son of a Royal Navy surgeon of the same name and his wife, Annabella Smith. According to his own account, Edward came to New Zealand about 1875, and worked as a cadet on sheep stations in Hawke's Bay and at Katikati. In 1882 he took up a 3,000-acre property in Turakina Valley, which he named Makohau. He returned to Scotland to marry Catherine Ann Wilson, in Glasgow, on 9 February 1886; they were to have a son, who died in infancy, and a daughter.
In 1884 Newman was elected to the Rangitikei County Council, on which he served until 1905. A prominent figure in local farming circles, he was chairman of the Marton branch of the New Zealand Farmers' Union in 1906–7, and acted as the union's parliamentary agent. In 1913 he was the foundation patron of the Marton Agricultural and Pastoral Association. He also represented Rangitikei on the Wanganui Hospital Board and the Wanganui Education Board.
After two decades of experience in local body politics, Newman was elected to Parliament in 1908 for the Manawatu seat. A member of the Reform Party, he represented Rangitikei from 1911 to 1919, then Manawatu again from 1919 until 1922. From 1912 to 1922 he was chairman of the Lands Committee. A determined advocate of the interests of small farmers, Newman argued that New Zealand should 'remain an agricultural and pastoral country' and 'develop a race of men of the Yeoman type'. He also promoted the planting of pine forests on coastal land to arrest sand-dune growth, and supported the introduction of a bravery award for policemen. Newman retired on medical advice in 1922. He was made a CMG in early 1923 and later that year, his health having improved, was appointed to the Legislative Council; he served until 1930. From 1931 to 1935 he was a member of the Government Railways Board.
During and after the First World War Newman was particularly concerned with the treatment of returned servicemen. He supported the establishment of soldier farm settlements, and demanded that new schools be provided for settler families. In 1915 he suggested that a hospital be established in Marton for treating war wounded. Although he offered to contribute £100 per year of his own money towards renting premises, the plan did not go ahead.
Edward Newman's greatest achievement in public office, however, was persuading sheepfarmers to contribute to a memorial fund to assist the families of Royal Navy and British mercantile marine sailors killed or wounded during the First World War. In July 1918 he suggested to Marton sheepowners that they surrender surplus profits from a bumper sale of that season's wool clip to establish a fund in recognition of seamen's contribution to the war effort. Gaining unanimous support in Marton, he travelled throughout New Zealand promoting the scheme and seeking donations.
Newman persuaded more that 2,600 woolgrowers, owning some six million sheep, to donate £237,000 to the New Zealand Sheepowners' Acknowledgment of Debt to British Seamen Fund. Its board of trustees, which Newman chaired from 1920 until his death in 1946, gave immediate relief grants to sailors' families, and in 1923 decided to bring British seamen's sons to New Zealand for farm training. The trustees purchased Flock House, Lynn McKelvie's homestead and 1,000-acre property at Parewanui, near Bulls, together with nearly 7,000 acres of neighbouring land. On 28 June 1924 the first draft of 25 teenaged boys arrived from Britain. Girls were accepted from 1925 at another training farm at Awapuni, Palmerston North. Between 1924 and 1937 the Flock House project brought 635 boys and 128 girls to New Zealand, teaching them farming and other skills, and assisting them to find jobs or to acquire their own farms. In 1937 the Labour government took over Flock House for its own farm cadet scheme.
A small, dark man with a trim beard, Edward Newman was humane and far-sighted. He worked tirelessly for his community, was a popular MP and farming leader, and was widely respected for his generosity and integrity. He died at Palmerston North on 24 April 1946, from injuries received when he was knocked down by a car. Newman was buried beside his wife Catherine, who had died in 1941, and their son, in Turakina public cemetery. He was survived by his daughter.