Finlay was born at Faversham, Kent, where his Scottish father, Captain John Finlay FRS, an officer in the Royal Engineers, was inspector of government powder mills. His father died in 1802, and his Scottish mother and uncle (Kirkman Finlay) took hand of his education. His love of history was attributed to his mother.
Intended for the law, he was educated at the University of Glasgow, the University of Göttingen, and the University of Edinburgh, but becoming an enthusiast in the cause of Greece, he joined Byron in the war of independence, and thereafter bought a property near Athens, where he settled and busied himself with schemes for the improvement of the country, which met with little success. For many years, he acted as the special correspondent of the London Times. He was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1838.
His History of Greece, produced in sections between 1843 and 1861, did not at first receive the recognition which its merits deserved, but it has since been given by scholars in all countries, and specially in Germany, a place among works of permanent value, alike for its literary style and the depth and insight of its historical views. It was re-issued in 1877 as A History of Greece from the Roman Conquest to the Present Time (146 BC to 1864).
Confusion arising from a work of Thomas Moore on the life of Byron which refers to his uncle by full name but Finlay only by surname, lead to some of his exploits being ascribed to a putative brother Kirkman Finlay.
- A History of Greece (From Its Conquest by the Romans to the Present Time, B.C. 146 to A.D. 1864)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). "Finlay, George". A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource
- Garnett, Richard (1889). "Finlay, George". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography. 19. London: Smith, Elder & Co.