Matthew Stainton Nolloth joined the Royal Navy in August 1824 at the age of 14 years. He passed his final examinations in 1830 and was appointed with the rank of lieutenant in June 1836. During 1839-1844 he served mainly in the Far East. In 1845, when he was a first lieutenant on the Bittern 16, he was transferred to Simon's Town, Cape Colony, and promoted to commander in March 1846.
In 1854, shortly after the start of copper mining in Namaqualand, Nolloth was ordered to investigate the west coast of the colony between the Olifants and Orange Rivers with a view to finding the most suitable harbour to service the copper fields. He left Cape Town on 1 November 1854 in command of HMS Frolic and returned on 26 December the same year after investigating Hondeklip Bay, McDougals Bay, Robbe Bay (or Seal Bay, John Owen's Bay), and Roodewal Bay (or Rooiwalbaai). His report formed part of the Report of the Surveyor-General Charles D. Bell, Esq., on the Copper Fields of Little Namaqualand, and of Commander M.S. Nolloth, of HMS "Frolic", on the bays and harbours of that coast (45 pp) and was submitted to parliament in 1855. It dealt mainly with the advantages and disadvantages of Hondeklip Bay and Robbe Bay, both of which were used at the time as harbours for the import of equipment and the export of copper ore. Nolloth favoured Robbe Bay, some 80 km south of the Orange River mouth, because it was deeper, better sheltered, and there was potable water near by. The Cape government renamed it Port Nolloth in his honour that same year. However, Hondeklip Bay became the more important harbour, mainly because the route from there to the copper fields was more favourable for transport riders and the mining company. From about 1870 Port Nolloth began to grow, and after the completion of a private railway linking it to the copper mines at Okiep in 1876 it became the main port on the Namaqualand coast.
In February 1856 Nolloth was promoted to Captain. Shortly after his investigation of the west coast he reported on the "Visit of HMS Frolic to Tristan da Cunha" (The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle, 1856) and "On the submergence of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable" (Royal United Services Institute Journal, 1858). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1860. Shortly before his retirement he was promoted to vice-admiral in 1879. He subsequently retained his interest in naval matters and served on a committee investigating the protection of ships against fire and sinking.