Haliburton was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, the son of William Hersey Otis Haliburton and Lucy Chandler Grant. He attended University of King's College in Windsor and became a lawyer, opening a practice in Annapolis Royal. While in England, he met Louisa Neville, whom he married in 1816 and brought back to Nova Scotia. Louisa died in 1840.
Haliburton became noted local business man and a judge, but his great fame came from his writing. He wrote a diverse number of books on history, politics, and farm improvement. He rose to world wide fame with his Clockmaker serial that first appeared in the Novascotian and was later published in book form throughout the British Empire. The books recounted the humorous adventures of the character Sam Slick and became extremely popular light reading.
From 1826 to 1829, Haliburton represented Annapolis County in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly.
Haliburton retired from law and moved to England in 1856. In that same year he married Sarah Harriet Owen Williams. In 1859, Haliburton was elected the Member of Parliament for Launceston, Cornwall as a member of the Tory minority; he did not stand for re-election in 1865.
In 1884, faculty and students at King's College, Windsor, founded a literary society in honour of the College's most celebrated man of letters. The Haliburton Club, still active at King's College, Halifax, is now the longest-standing collegial literary society in the British Commonwealth and North America.
His son Arthur (1832-1907) later became Arthur Haliburton, 1st Baron Haliburton.