Arthur William Follett Halcombe was born at Highgate, London, England, probably on 16 January 1834, the fifth child of Margaret Birch and her husband, John Halcomb (later Halcombe), a barrister and MP for Dover. He was educated at St Paul's School, London, and Oriel College, Oxford. He emigrated to Wellington, New Zealand, about 1855 under the patronage of William Fox, whose wife, Sarah, was Halcombe's cousin.
Arthur Halcombe settled in Rangitikei; firstly at Riverdale, in the Porewa valley, but was soon made manager of Westoe, William Fox's 5,000-acre estate. In 1861 he was made a justice of the peace and in 1863 became a lieutenant of the Victoria Troop, Rangitikei Cavalry Volunteers, of Tutaenui and Turakina. On 3 December 1863 at St James' Church, Hutt, he married Edith Stanway Swainson, an artist, daughter of the naturalist and artist William Swainson and his second wife, Anne Grasby; they were to have five sons and three daughters. In 1863 Halcombe signed a six-year lease of Westoe.
Halcombe served as an inspector of schools in Wellington province from 1862, and received an official appointment to this position in 1865. He was elected to the Wellington Provincial Council for Rangitikei from 1865 to 1872 and was at various times provincial secretary and treasurer. From 1869 to 1871 Halcombe was the editor of the Wellington Independent newspaper, and in 1871 was the Wellington correspondent to The Times of London. Possibly at this time he became a trustee of Wanganui Collegiate School.
As an immigration agent Halcombe was involved in large-scale settlement schemes in the 1870s. In 1871, while still a member of the Wellington Provincial Council, he recommended to the general government that a group of Danes recruited for emigration to New Zealand should be settled in Manawatu. The suggestion was taken up, and after his resignation from the council he organised their settlement at Palmerston North. He also supervised the establishment of Scandinavian settlements in northern Wairarapa and southern Hawke's Bay, and in April 1872 accompanied the Scandinavians' advance party to the site of the Mauriceville settlement, walking over the Remutaka Range to the Masterton stockade, and on to The Camp at Kopuaranga. In 1873, accompanied by Alexander Munro, Halcombe travelled north from Mauriceville to select a site at Eketahuna. He was also closely associated with the settlements at Dannevirke and Norsewood.
From 1872 to 1881 Halcombe served as attorney and agent of the Emigrant and Colonist's Aid Corporation for the Manchester block settlement, situated between the Rangitikei and Manawatu rivers on 100,000 acres selected by Lieutenant Colonel W. H. A. Feilding. In January 1874 Halcombe met the first settlers from the Duke of Edinburgh at Foxton, and escorted them along the recently completed wooden tramway to the corporation's depot in Palmerston North, and on to Feilding. On 31 July he was able to report to the minister for immigration that '614 souls' had arrived or were on the way to the new settlement.
By 1874 Arthur and Edith Halcombe were living at The Pines, Feilding, and were involved in the local affairs of the new settlement. In 1876 Arthur served on the first Manawatu County Council. The township of Halcombe was established that year, and the Stanway settlement, to the north-east of Halcombe, was named for his wife. Both Arthur and Edith were active in the establishment of the Anglican church in Feilding in 1876. To promote the developing settlement Arthur published The Feilding settlement, Manchester block, Manawatu, New Zealand (illustrated by Edith Halcombe) in London in 1878.
Halcombe resigned as the corporation's agent in 1881, and accompanied by his wife and eldest daughter visited England. On his return to New Zealand he became involved with the Patetere Land Company's settlement scheme. This company (later the New Zealand Thames Valley Land Company) aimed to settle immigrant farmers on the Selwyn block, south of Cambridge, with a town at Lichfield, near Putaruru. Halcombe examined and reported on the land, and may also have been financially involved. However, the scheme was not a success, and by 1885 the company was in serious financial trouble. He retired to Ferngrove at Urenui, Taranaki, in 1886, and farmed there. He was still engaged in public affairs, being first chairman of the New Plymouth High School Board, and a member of the Clifton County Council. He died at Ferngrove on 3 March 1900. Edith Halcombe died in 1903.
Energetic and genial, with experience in farming and politics, Halcombe was a practical and effective agent and manager. The success of the Manchester block settlement, despite heavy bush and early problems with flooding, was in large measure due to his foresight and ability.