Henry Thomas Alken was born on 12 October 1785 in Soho London and baptised on November 6 at St James’s Church, Piccadilly. He was the third son of Samuel Alken, a sporting artist. Two of his brothers were George, Samuel Jr (also an artist) and Sefferien John. In 1789, Henry’s family moved to 2 Francis Street East, Bedford Square. Young Henry first studied under his father and then with the miniature painter John Thomas Barber Beaumont (1774–1841), also known as J.T. Barber. In 1801, Alken sent a miniature portrait of Miss Gubbins to the Royal Academy Exhibition. He exhibited a second miniature at the Royal Academy before abandoning miniature painting and taking on painting and illustrating. Early in his career, he painted sporting subjects under the name of “Ben Tally-O”.
Alken married Maria Gordon on October 14, 1809 at St. Clement’s Parish Church in Ipswich. On August 22 a year later the couple’s first son was baptised. Alken went on to father five children, two of whom were artists, Samuel Henry, also a sporting artist and known as Henry Alken junior, and Sefferien junior. From about 1816 onwards Alken “produced an unending stream of paintings, drawings and engravings of every type of field and other sporting activity,” and his soft-ground etchings were often colored by hand. When Alken was 26, he and his young family lived over a shop in Haymarket that belonged to print publisher Thomas McLean of the “Repository of Wit and Humour.” Mclean paid Alken a daily wage of 30s, considered a good salary at the time. Alken died in April 1851 and was buried in Highgate cemetery. Although fairly affluent for most of his career, he fell on hard times towards the end of his life and was buried at his daughter’s expense.