Haddon, Alfred Cort

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Haddon, Alfred Cort



Alfred Cort Haddon (1855–1940), “the father of Cambridge anthropology,” was the son of strictly Nonconformist parents living on the outskirts of London. His father, John, was more successful as a Baptist deacon and Sunday-school teacher than in business, and the printing works that he had inherited produced dwindling profits. Haddon’s mother, Caroline Waterman, eked out their scanty income by writing children’s books, mostly religious, but, significantly, her best seller was Look, Listen and Learn, an introduction to nature study based on walks with her children. Her son dedicated his Head-hunters “to my Mother who first taught me to observe.”

After a scrappy schooling Haddon entered the family business, “duty and drudgery,” as he called it. There, however unwillingly, he learned some useful lessons: careful and exact lettering and drawing, printing technique, proofreading, and business methods. But his whole heart was devoted to the study of plants and animals, and his spare time was spent in collecting, drawing, dissecting, bottling, and noting in his diary everything he could find, from squashed hedgehogs and unwanted kittens to water fleas and animalcula.

“Duty and drudgery” came to an end in 1875, when his father decided that the young scientist was a bungling failure in the office and that he would lose less money by sending him to the university. Haddon was enrolled at Christ’s College, Cambridge. He won a scholarship and did bril liantly in his tripos. He was nominated to the zoological station at Naples and in 1880 was appointed professor of zoology at Dublin.

Haddon’s marriage the following year to Fanny Rose was the climax of a college joke that the par ticipants never regretted. He and his friend Holland Rose had arranged to exchange sisters for the May Week festivities of 1877. Rose married Laura Had don in 1880, and at their wedding Haddon an nounced his engagement to Fanny Rose.

Armchair science never satisfied him, and in 1888, “tired of lecturing about things I have never seen,” he planned his first visit to the Torres Strait, a turning point in his life and in the history of anthropology. His carefully kept journal shows how his interest in coral reefs was gradually eclipsed by interest in the natives. He realized that corals could wait but native culture was disintegrating so rapidly with the impact of civilization that the saving of vanishing data was an urgent need.

When he left the islands, in 1889, he was already planning the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait, a landmark in anthropo logical research. It took him almost ten years to collect the men and the money. He felt a thorough record of native life needed a team of specialists that included not only those equipped to study physical characters, arts and crafts, music, language, religion, and folklore but also, for the first time, a psychologist who might interpret native thought. In the end there were two psychologists, W. H. R. Rivers, a lecturer in the medical school, and his pupil C. S. Myers, who was a musician as well; from the medical school also came William McDougall and C. G. Seligman. All these names later became famous in the social sciences. The team was completed by S. H. Ray, an elementary-school teacher with an uncanny knowledge of Melanesian languages, and Anthony Wilkin, a capable photographer interested in material culture. Their work is enshrined both in the six volumes of the Reports (1901–1935) and, more popularly, in Headhunters (1901).

The expedition was a tremendous success, mainly because of Haddon’s foresighted organization and the affectionate welcome he received from the islanders. Its members hoped that on its return it would be crowned by some recognition from the university. But Haddon’s only reward was a lectureship in ethnology at £50 a year. He had never been interested in money and was used to a frugal life, but with a wife and three children to support he had to augment his meager income by lecturing all over the country and writing articles and reviews at the same time he was writing and editing the Reports.

Americans were more appreciative than “poor blind Cambridge,” as Haddon’s own university was described. G. A. Dorsey of the Field Columbian Museum invited him to lecture at Chicago and else where in 1900, offering twice as much as Cam bridge paid him in a year. And when, later, at the invitation of W. Z. Ripley, Haddon gave the Lowell lectures at Boston, he calculated gleefully that he was getting two dollars a minute. He would return to England from these visits enriched and encouraged, only to be depressed again by the apathy and financial anxieties at home. It was not until 1904 that a readership at £200 a year was established, and Haddon assumed this post and undertook all the lecturing it entailed, pursuing his duties with unflagging energy and enthusiasm until his resignation, in 1925.

When Haddon first came to Cambridge, in 1875, the science of anthropology was nonexistent. When he died, in 1940, it had been raised, mainly by his selfless devotion, to an honored position in the university. His influence was due primarily to his personality. He was not a good lecturer, his thoughts dashing ahead of his hesitant speech. He lacked social graces, retaining to the end of his life some thing of the gaucherie of a schoolboy. At the same time that his Nonconformist conscience never for sook him, he was intolerant of cramping conventions, ignored creeds and sects, and respected only those aspects of religion, civilized or uncivilized, that were heartfelt and genuine. He made friends with high and low. He was a welcome associate of academic dignitaries (although barely polite to the pompous or pretentious) and was always at his best with those in the humbler ranks—illiterate Irish peasants, fishermen, and his beloved “savages.” His students were among his most devoted admirers, and they have maintained his high standards of honest work in the study of mankind.

A. H. Quiggin

[For discussion of the subsequent development of Had don’s -work, seeOceanian Societyand the biogra phies ofRadcliffe-Brown; Rivers; Seligman, C. G.]


(1895) 1914 Evolution in Art: As Illustrated by the Life-histories of Designs. New ed. London: Scott.

(1898) 1908 The Study of Man. 2d ed. New York: Putnam.

1901 Head-hunters: Black, White and Brown. London: Methuen.

1901-1935 Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits. 6 vols. Cambridge Univ. Press; New York: Macmillan. → Volume 1: General Ethnography, 1935. Volume 2: Physiology and Psychology, 2 parts, 1901–1903. Volume 3: Linguistics, 1907. Volume 4: Arts and Crafts, 1912. Volume 5: Sociology, Magic and Religion of the Western Islanders, 1904. Volume 6: Sociology, Magic and Religion of the Eastern Islanders, 1908.

(1909) 1929 Races of Man and Their Distribution. Rev. ed. Cambridge Univ. Press; New York: Macmillan.

(1911) 1927 Wanderings of Peoples. 2d ed. Cambridge Univ. Press.

1936 Huxley, Julian S.; and Haddon, Alfred CortWe Europeans: A Survey of “Racial” Problems. New York and London: Harper.

1936-1938 Haddon, Alfred Cort; and Hornell, JamesCanoes of Oceania. 3 vols. Honolulu, Hawaii: Bishop Museum. → Volume 1: Canoes of Polynesia, Fiji, and Micronesia, 1936. Volume 2: Canoes of Melanesia, Queensland, and New Guinea, 1938. Volume 3: Defi nition of Terms and General Survey of Oceanic Canoe, 1938.


Quiggin, A. H. 1942 Haddon the Head-hunter: A Short Sketch of the Life of A. C. Haddon. Cambridge Univ. Press.