Born December 21, 1794, Charles was the third child of Mary Askham and John Empson, a weaver in York.
Not much is known of Charles Empson's early years except that he yearned to travel. His family was not wealthy, with the father having been a weaver. When Charles was 29, he left England in June 1824 for South America, and traveled with Robert Stephenson to is now Colombia.
In 1827 when John Snow was 14 and considering a medical apprenticeship, Uncle Charles and his friend Robert were finishing their three-year South American journey and continuing to New York. Robert Stephenson's family doctor was William Hardcastle who lived in Long Benton; Hardcastle was also a close friend of Charles Empson. Knowing of his nephew's interests in medicine, Charles likely encouraged Robert to write Hardcastle to arrange for the apprenticeship of John Snow.
The two friends left Colombia at the end of July 1827, one month after John Snow started his apprenticeship with William Hardcastle. They brought with them precious objects of pre-Colombian art, including some gold artifacts which Charles later exhibited in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Unfortunately, some of their possessions were lost in a shipwreck at the entrance to New York harbour. After spending time in New York city, Charles and Robert went on a walking tour of New York State and Canada, traveling as far as Montreal. They arrived in Liverpool, England in November 1827.
After his three-year journey, Charles Empson settled in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and where he started a business as a fine art bookseller. The business flourished until 1834, when he relocated to Bath. A year earlier John Snow had also left Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but for Bumopfield to attend the second of three medical apprenticeships.
In Bath Charles Empson was described as a museum keeper or perhaps more accurately, as a picture dealer. He became increasingly prominent in local society. One of his acquaintances was Charles Louis Napoleon (1808-1873) who was living in Bath and later proclaimed himself to be Emperor Napoleon III of France.
When first moving to Bath, Empson lived at 9 Cleveland Place, next to the Cleveland Bridge over the River Avon. In the same building he had a museum which showed both paintings and historical works.
A painting of Charles Empson is now owned by the descendant of John Snow's brother Thomas (1821-1893). The undated portrait is believed to be painted by Willes (or Willis) Maddox, a Bath artist who later moved to London.