George Henry Ford, natural history illustrator, was the third child of James Edward Ford and his wife Frances, born Stransham, who arrived in the Eastern Cape with their family in 1820 as British settlers. James Edward had made a living as a "wool stapler" in England, but in his spare time practised miniature painting. A younger brother of George, John Henry Ford*, later became a prominent surveyor in the Orange Free State. After farming at Cuylerville (a settlement near present Uitenhage) for a few years the family moved to Grahamstown in 1824 and to Cape Town the next year, where James Edward attempted to make a living as a miniature painter.
George Henry broke his hip soon after the family's arrival, an injury that left him permanently crippled. In 1821 he was taken to Cape Town to convalesce by Dr Andrew Smith*, who was visiting the Eastern Cape at the time. The young Ford shared his father's artistic talents and was encouraged to draw and paint Smith's specimens. The quality of his work was so high that in 1825 Smith recommended him to the newly founded South African Museum. In 1834 he was chosen to accompany the expedition into the interior fitted out by the Cape of Good Hope Association for Exploring Central Africa. The expedition was led by Dr Smith* and departed from Cape Town in July that year. They explored the mountains north of the Orange River, met Chief Moshoeshoe at Thaba Bosiu, travelled to present day Kuruman, explored the Magaliesberg and Pilansberg in the Transvaal, reached the tropic of Capricorn and returned to Cape Town in January 1836. Ford was one of the expedition's two artists, the other being Charles Bell*. He specialised in zoological subjects and was responsible for most of the drawings of mammals, birds, reptiles and fishes in the first four volumes of Smith's Illustrations of the zoology of South Africa (London, 1838-1849). At a meeting of the subscribers to the expedition in March 1836 he and the other participants were thanked for their contribution to its success.
That same year Ford opened a studio in Cape Town where he painted and gave painting lessons. When Dr Smith returned to England in 1837 Ford accompanied him and found immediate recognition as an illustrator of exceptional merit. He was employed at the British Museum, where he worked with Dr Smith and later under John Edward Gray, assistant to the Keeper of Zoology. Many years later he provided the illustrations for Roland Trimen's book on South African butterflies, Rhopalocera africae australis (Cape Town, 1862-1866). Also between 1863 and 1867 he produced 58 exceptionally clear and accurate plates for the Illustrations of dissections in a series of original coloured plates the size of life, by the anatomist George Viner Ellis.
Ford was married to Emma Ethel Ford, with whom he had eight children.