Townsend was born 4 April 1739 in London, the son of Chauncy Townsend and his wife Bridget. He died in Pewsey, Wiltshire on 9 November 1816. He was educated at Clare Hall, Cambridge (BA 1762, MA 1765) and then studied medicine in Edinburgh. He then took orders, showing for a time some sympathy with the Calvinistic Methodists. He travelled widely, in 1769 to Ireland, and the following year in France, Holland and Flanders. Later he went to Spain, publishing an account of his journey there; he visited Switzerland as well. He used these opportunities to meet distinguished men of science on the continent, as he used his frequent visits to Cornwall to study mineralogy. Townsend served as chaplain to the Duke of Atholl and later became rector of Pewsey, Wiltshire. He was married to Joyce Nankivell of Truro in 1773; she died in 1785 and he married Lydia Hammond in 1790. She died in 1812. With his first wife he had four sons and two daughters.
From The Biographical Dictionary of British Economists in Oxford Reference.