Alfred Cort Haddon (1855-1940) was the Horniman Museum’s advisory curator from 1902-1915 after the Museum was donated by Frederick Horniman to the London County Council in 1901. Initially a naturalist and zoologist, his interest in anthropology was developed on an expedition to the Torres Strait in 1888. He subsequently combined his academic career in Cambridge with the role of advisory curator at the Horniman Museum in London. In 1920 he became an assistant curator at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and retired in 1925. He also published a number of books and reports.
Alfred Cort Haddon was born in London in 1855. His father was a printer, merchant and Baptist deacon, and his mother was an author of children's books. He was educated at local schools and became a keen amateur naturalist. He pursued this interest by attending evening classes at King's College and Birkbeck College London. In 1875 he went up to Christ College, Cambridge to read natural science and in 1879 he became curator of the Zoological Museum. The following year he accepted the Chair of Zoology at the Royal College of Science, Dublin in 1880. Haddon married Fanny Elizabeth (nee Rose, 1857-1937) in 1881 and had two daughters and one son.
On the advice of T H Huxley, Haddon set up an expedition to the Torres Strait, an area in which he would develop an abiding intellectual interest which ultimately led to his conversion from natural science to anthropology. He arrived in Torres Strait in August 1888 and made a large collection of ethnographic specimens. On returning to Britain he began reading anthropology at Cambridge in 1893 and in 1895 began lecturing in physical anthropology before achieving his Doctorate of Science in 1897. He set up another trip to the Torres Straits and this time took with him a team of anthropologists including C S Myer, W H R Rivers, S H Ray, William McDougall and C G Seligman. The expedition was a rigorous and sophisticated regional ethnography and the bulk of the work was edited and published in six volumes between 1901 and 1935. In 1900, Haddon was appointed lecturer in ethnology at Cambridge University and the following year was made a fellow of Christ's College.
Haddon’s association with the Horniman Museum began in 1901 when the London County Council asked him to inspect the collection following Frederick John Horniman’s gift of the Museum to the People of London. Following his report in 1902, Haddon was appointed as advisory curator and he held this position until 1915. Under Haddon’s guidance, the Museum redesigned and reclassified the collection as an educational resource reflecting the evolutionary approach to technology. His vision for the Museum was more or less continued by the two subsequent curators of the Museum, Dr Herbert Spencer Harrison and Dr L W G Malcolm, who were both former associates and students of Haddon.
The collections within the Museum also reflect Haddon’s influence both through the emphasis placed on Oceanic specimens, in particular from New Guinea and the Torres Straits and collections from his personal network of friends and associates who included: Charles Hose (Borneo), Sir Everard im Thurn and his son E. B. Haddon (East Africa), Stanley Gardiner (the Maldives), Charles Seligman and Major Cooke Daniells (New Guinea), Radcliffe Brown (the Andaman Islands), and Emil Torday (the Congo).
The Horniman Museum’s historical files contain details of objects which Haddon acquired for the Museum. There’s a letter from ‘Ye Olde Curiosity Shop’ dated ‘Seattle, Oct 31 1909’ addressed to Dr A.C. Haddon and signed by J.E. Standley referring to a totem pole and explaining that ‘always read Totems from bottom up.’ A large number of objects were acquired on Haddon’s visit to the US West Coast. According to an article which appeared in the Columbia Magazine: Summer 2003; Vol. 17, No. 2 ‘Tales from Ye Olde Curiosity Shop’ by Kate Duncan page 4:
‘In early July 1909 distinguished British anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon, of Cambridge University, strolled into Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on Colman Dock in Seattle. Afterward, Standley wrote excitedly in his guest book: “Dr Hadden visited the Shop and Bot big lot Indian and Eskimo curios to put in the museum at Haddon Hall. He was elated and yelled out I take my hat off to Mr. Standley’s Unique Shop.”
In 1920, Haddon was employed as assistant curator at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. He retired in 1925 and committed himself to publishing including the first volume of the Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits. His scholarly output was prodigious, and included The Study of Man (London, 1895), Evolution in Art (1895), Head-Hunters, Black, White and Brown (1901) and History of Anthropology (1910), yet he is best remembered for his Torres Strait publications. Throughout his life Haddon held prestigious positions and received several awards; he was president of Section H (Anthropology) in the British Association meetings of 1902 and 1905, president of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain, of the Folk Lore Society, and of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, he received from the R.A.I. the Huxley Medal in 1920 and was the first recipient of the Rovers Medal in 1924.