Henri Milne-Edwards was born on October 23, 1800, in Bruges, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium (then Bruges, French First Republic) where his parents had retired to the family of William Edwards, an English planter and militia colonel in Jamaica, and Elisabeth Vaux, Milne-Edwards. He was his father's 27th child. Milne, which he added to his father’s name, was the married name of his godmother and half-sister by a previous marriage of his father. His father was jailed for several years for helping some Englishmen in their escape to their country. As a child, he was taken to Paris by his older brother, William Frédéric Edwards who took care of him. The fall of Napoleon led to the release of their father and the reunification of the family in Paris. When Belgium became independent, Milne-Edwards chose French citizenship.