Dr Edwin Atherstone was a son of Dr John Atherstone* and his wife Elizabeth Damant, and a brother of the well known Dr William Guybon Atherstone* of Grahamstown. He qualified as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons (England) in 1865, and was awarded the degrees Bachelor of Medicine (MB) and Master of Surgery by the University of Aberdene, Scotland, in 1866. He was licensed to practice in the Cape Colony in December 1866 and did so in Grahamstown for the rest of his life. In later years he returned to Aberdene for further studies, receiving the degree Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1882. He was married to Armine Girdlestone.
Edwin was an ardent student of bird life in South Africa in his leisure hours, adding many rare species to the collections of the Albany Museum. For Example, in 1861 he presented 39 bird species and some mammals to the museum, followed by more birds during 1867 to 1872. Most of his specimens were collected at Grahamstown and at Table Farm, some 10 km northwest of the town. During this period he also regularly exhibited birds at meetings of the Albany Natural History Society (founded 1867) and served on its first council.
Another of his early interests was in entomology. He donated his collection of Cape butterflies to the Albany Museum in 1864, and offered to take charge of the museum's entomological collections.
After 1872 there followed a long period during which he appears to have been less active as an amateur scientist, though he was a member of the management committee of the Albany Museum in 1883. In February 1885 he was elected a council member of the newly formed Eastern Province Branch of the (first) South African Medical Association, but the branch did not survive for long. Edwin's scientific activities increased again from 1890. During that year he identified birds for the Albany Museum and chaired a meeting at which it was decided to revive the Albany Natural History Society. When the Literary, Scientific and Medical Society (legal owners of the Albany Museum) was revived in July 1892, Edwin was elected a member of its management committee (which was in charge of the museum) and still served in this role in 1898, the year of his death. He also served on the council of St. Andrew's College in Grahamstown during the eighteen-nineties.
Edwin's contributions to the scientific and cultural life of Grahamstown were overshadowed by those of his more prominent brother, William Guybon, but were none the less significant.