Tickell was born at Cuttack in India. He was educated in England, returning at age nineteen to join the Bengal Native Infantry in 1829. He served in the 31st Bengal Native Infantry during the Kol campaign (1832–33). He was made commander of Brian Hodgson's military escort to Kathmandu from 1834. He returned to Bengal in 1843, and after his promotion to Captain in 1847 he was moved to Arakan, lower Burma.
During his time in India, Tickell made important contributions to the country's ornithology and mammalology, with field observations and the collections of specimens. He contributed to volume 17 of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Volume 18 included a report by Tickell from Burma. He wrote under the pen-name of "Ornithognomon" and "Old Log". Hume noted that many of the notes written as "Ornithognomon" in the Field were based on observations of another amateur ornithologist, Frederic Wilson.
Tickell retired in 1865 and lived for a period in France before settling in the Channel Islands. In 1870, while fishing on the coast of Brittany, he suffered an eye inflammation which eventually made him blind. Tickell had been working on a seven-volume work entitled Illustrations of Indian Ornithology, but his deteriorating eyesight forced him to abandon it. Before his death he donated the unfinished work to the Zoological Society of London. These works were bound into fourteen volumes. These included one on the fishes collected in the seas and freshwaters of British Burma from 1851-64 with watercolour illustrations, a field of study which had been examined by very few fish taxonomists, the earliest work being by Francis Day; a volume on mammals (214 pages); a volume on insects, reptiles, amphibians, arachnids and crustaceans (256 pages); and the remaining volumes on birds. Of these seven volumes were titled Indian Ornithology and included 276 species illustrated of a total of 488 species described. In addition there were two volumes titled Tickell Aves with descriptions and watercolour illustrations which were based on two draft volumes of Tickell Aves MS I & II. The work showcased his excellent artistic abilities, including paintings of birds in natural habitats as well as ink vignettes showing scenes from Indian life.
A number of birds were named after Tickell, including:
- Rusty-cheeked hornbill, Anorrhinus tickelli
- Tickell's thrush, Turdus unicolor
- Tickell's flowerpecker, Dicaeum erythrorhynchos
- Tickell's leaf warbler, Phylloscopus affinis;
and one species after his wife:
- Tickell's blue flycatcher, Cyornis tickelliae.
- "Biographical notices of the Original Members of the BO, of the principal Contributors to the First Series of the Ibis, and of the Officials: Colonel S.R. Tickell". Ibis Jubilee Supplement: 211–212. 1908.
- Walden, Arthur Viscount (1876). "Notes on the late Colonel Tickell's manuscript Work entitled "Illustrations of Indian Ornithology"". Ibis. 18 (3): 336–357. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1876.tb06930.x.
- Hume, AO & CHT Marshall (1879). Game birds of India, Burmah and Ceylon. Volume 1. pp. 126, 174.
- Whitehead, P.J.P. & P.K. Talwar (1976). "Francis Day (1829–1889) and his collections of Indian Fishes". Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Historical Series. 5 (1): 189.
- Tickell, S.R. (1840). "Vocabulary of the Ho language". Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal. 9: 1063–1090.
- Tickell, S.R. (1840). "Grammatical construction of the Ho language". Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. 9: 997–1007.
Biographical notes concerning Samuel Tickell's father may be found at