Alfred C. Haddon, British zoologist and anthropologist, collected natural history specimens in his youth, attended evening classes at King's College, London, and did some teaching before reaching the age of 20. In 1875 he went to Christ's College, Cambridge, to study zoology and obtained a first class pass in the natural science tripos in 1878. After spending six months at the Stazione Zoologica at Naples on a grant he became curator of the Zoological Museum at Cambridge and demonstrator in zoology at the university. He eventually qualified as Doctor of Science (DSc) at Cambridge in 1897 and was elected a Fellow of both the Zoological Society of London and, in 1899, the Royal Society of London.
In 1880 Haddon was appointed professor of zoology at the Royal College of Science in Dublin, Ireland. There he did pioneering work on the taxonomy of sea anamones and, in addition to a number of scientific papers, published An introduction to the study of embryology (1887). He also developed an interest in ethnology. In 1888-1889 he visited the Torres Strait (between Papua New Guinea and Australia) to study its marine biology, and used the opportunity to also record the way of life of the local people. Among others he published a book on The decorative art of British New Guinea (Dublin, 1894). From 1894 to 1898 he was a part-time lecturer in physical anthropology at Cambridge and planned the famous Cambridge anthropological expedition to the Torres Strait, New Guinea and Sarawak in 1898-1899. The expedition's Reports, for which he was largely responsible, were published during 1901-1912 and 1935. After lecturing in ethnology at Cambridge in 1900 and being elected a Fellow of Christ's College in 1901 he resigned as professor of zoology in Dublin. He lectured also in London, and made several visits to the United States.
Haddon had become a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1881 and served on its council from 1902. In 1905 he attended the joint meeting of the British and South African Associations for the Advancement of Science in South Africa. As president of Section H (Anthropology) of the British Association he delivered an address in Cape Town on 16 August, which was published in full in the association's Report of the meeting (pp. 511-527). It took the form of a comprehensive review of current knowledge relating to the physical characteristics, life style and culture of the various indigenous peoples of southern Africa, with indications of areas in need of further research. His address also dealt with aspects of South African archaeology, particularly the importance of conserving archaeological sites and conducting properly controlled excavations, and included a plea for the introduction of an Ancient Monument Protection Act, and an Inspectorate to enforce it. This important address had a marked effect on subsequent efforts to preserve archaeological sites in both South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Haddon wrote an account of the joint meeting, With the British Association in South Africa, which was published in London in 1906. Some of his other works contained references to the peoples of southern Africa: The study of man (1898), The races of man and their distribution (1909), and The wanderings of peoples (1912). Other books by him included Head hunters... (1901), Magic and fetishism (1906), History of anthropology (1910), and Canoes of Oceania (1936, 3 vols, with J. Hornell).
In 1909 Haddon was appointed reader in ethnology at Cambridge. When the British Association met in Australia in 1914 he attended again, and used the opportunity for a further visit to the Torres Strait. After World War I (1914-1918) he worked at Cambridge University's Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, helping to make it a centre of excellence in anthropological research. He was a humanist and a great teacher, until his retirement in 1925. Honorary doctorates were conferred upon him by the universities of Manchester and Perth.