Born at Ipswich, Suffolk in 1810, Samuel Alken was the son of Henry Thomas Alken and his wife Maria or Marianée Gordon (1786-1841). He studied under his father and worked in Ipswich, but the family returned to London where he worked as an artist and specialized in painting animals; he executed many of the horses depicted in George Sala's 60 foot long panorama of the funeral procession of the Duke of Wellington in 1852.
In 1851 Alken was living in the Strand, London with 21 year old Ellen from Doncaster, described as his wife, and in 1861 at Bridge Street, Covent Garden with 29 year old Jane from Romford, Essex also described as his wife, but no marriage licences have been found.
In 1871, unmarried, he was lodging at 9 Market Terrace, Hammersmith, and in the 1881 census living at 62 High Street, Shadwell, Essex. Ten years later he was a patient in London at Poplar & Stepney Sick Asylum where he died in 1894.