Born in Manchester, his first employment was in a merchant's office. While there he started writing, and at the age of 23 became literary editor of a magazine in Cheltenham.
In 1846 he came to London, having been admitted as a law student at the Inner Temple. He was called to the bar, but did not practice.
He contributed articles to the Athenaeum and the The Daily News wrote a John Howard and the Prison-World of Europe (1850), A History of William Penn: Founder of Pennsylvania (1851), The Story of Lord Bacon's Life (1862). From 1853-69 he was editor of the Athenaeum.
He was appointed a a deputy-commissioner of the Great Exhibition of 1851, was appointed a justice of the peace for Middlesex and Westminster in 1869, and was elected a member of the first London School Board in 1870, representing Marylebone.
In 1878 he was injured when he fell from a horse while visiting Cyprus, and never recovered his health. In late 1879 two of his children suffered tragic deaths, and he died following a seizure on the morning of 27 December in his home at St James's Terrace, Regents Park. He was buried in Highgate Cemetery.
- "Obituary". The Times: p. 4. 29 December 1879.