Backhouse was educated at Lawrence Street School, (which later became Bootham School), York. He worked in Norway, Ireland, and Scotland, and was particularly known for his work on the flora of Teesdale. He was a correspondent of Charles Darwin.
Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised and completely updated with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis & the Natural History Museum, 1994.