Samuel J Lamorna Birch was born in Egremont in Cheshire. He first developed an interest in drawing during a stay with a river-keeper, where he was introduced to fly fishing. Subsequent factory jobs allowed him to paint in his spare time and save the money needed to become an independent artist. Within no time he had established a reputation as a promising young artist and he was successful in selling his work to wealthy industrialists. In 1889 Birch set off for the Newlyn School in Cornwall and was an entirely self-taught artist until 1895, when he travelled to Paris to study in the Atelier Colarossi.
He settled in Lamorna, Cornwall in 1902. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1892 and held his first one man exhibition at the Fine Art Society in 1906. The nickname "Lamorna" was given to him by the Newlyn School artist Stanhope Forbes, to distinguish him from Lionel Birch, another artist working in the area at that time.