Witham was born in Bognor Regis, England, the son of a cabinet maker. He initially earned his living as a mariner and his early love of the sea remained with the artist throughout his life. In 1874, he moved ashore and brought his family to the important shipping port of Liverpool where he established himself as a marine painter, a profession he followed until his death in 1901.
At this time, the top ship portraitist living in Liverpool was Samuel Walters. It is known that Witham’s professional address was initially the same as Sam Walters’ studio, 118 Bold Street, and suggests an early association with Walters. Specializing in ship's portraiture, Witham's seafaring days made him familiar with every aspect of sailing which was evident in his paintings.
Joseph Witham was capable of producing paintings of high artistic merit, flavored with an authentic feel of the sea. His works are noted for their superb perspective and detail. Although not as well known as many of his contemporaries, as more of his work surfaces, the artist has been gaining in popularity with collectors of fine marine paintings worldwide.