Courtenay was born near Chester, England in November 1793. He entered the British Navy in September 1805, working his way up to captiain by April 1828. He became commander of the Constance in August 1847. A Vancouver Island river was named after him in 1860, the name later being extended to the nearby town. He died on 30 March 1863.
The HMS Constance, launched on 12 March 1846 from Pembroke Dockyard, was stationed on the Pacific. She is linked to the christening of Esquimalt Harbour when she dropped anchor there in 1848, becoming the first British vessel based there.