The son of a Hull shipmaster, Somerscales was born in Hull, on 30th October 1842, and was educated there and at the Normal School in Cheltenham. In 1863, he joined the Royal Navy as a schoolmaster, serving firstly on H.M.S. Cumberland for six years and then on the corvette H.M.S. Clio and H.M.S. Zealous, the flagship of the Pacific Station. However, as a result of a fever that he caught whilst in Tahiti, he was invalided ashore at Valparaiso, Chile and was discharged from the Royal Navy. It was here that Somerscales took up painting and from 1874 gave instructions to pupils in both Valparaiso and Santiago. In the same year, he married Jane Trumbull Harper with who he had four sons. In 1892, he and his family returned to Hull but he made many trips back to Chile in his life time.