Huggins joined the East India Company while still a young man and made several voyages to the Far East. He first learned to paint while in China. In 1814, the artist returned to London and established a studio near the East India Company offices.
Beginning with paintings of East India Company vessels, he soon was an established ship portraitist gaining a strong reputation with the public and especially with seafaring men. The time Huggins spent at sea combined with his substantial volume of work are a valuable contribution to our knowledge of what ships of the period looked like. In 1834 he was appointed official marine painter to William IV where he painted both battle scenes and ship portraits.
Huggins exhibited at the Royal Academy and the British Institution as well as the Suffolk Street Galleries. A large number of his paintings were made into lithographs. The National Maritime Museum holds a pair of Huggins' paintings of the Battle of Trafalgar that have been favorably compared to the famous rendering by Turner.