Arthur John Munby was born at York in 1828, eldest son of Joseph Munby and his wife Caroline. After attending school in his home city he was admitted to Trinity College Cambridge in 1848 whence he graduated BA in 1851. He was admitted to Lincoln's inn in 1851 and called to the Bar in 1855, but ultimately found a career in the Ecclesiastical Commission, where he remained until 1888 while simultaneously pursuing a not unsuccessful, but ultimately unspectacular literary career, publishing several poetry collections.
Munby was a detailed diarist, recording London life and his travels for much of the latter half of the nineteenth century. Chief among his interests was the lives of working-class women, which he documented in his diaries, in sketches and in his collections of photographs that included pit-girls, fisherwomen and female acrobats. in 1873 he married a servant, Hannah Cullwick, who continued in her profession and so the relationship remained clandestine until Munby's death in 1910.