1901 - 1986 from England

biologist South Georgia, was born on 12 June 1901 in Clifton, Bristol the eldest child of Harold Matthews, and Sarah (Ruby), née Harrison, both of whom were pharmacists. He was educated at Bristol Grammar School and then King's College Cambridge. In 1924 on returning from the Cambridge University Expedition to Río de Janeiro, he married Helene Dorothy (Dolly) Harris. They had two children, Jean and John .

229 Leo.

In 1924 Matthews joined the Discovery Expedition and helped to create the shore station at Grytviken, South Georgia; this was set up to conduct scientific research on the Antarctic and to provide data for the management of the whaling industry. To do this Matthews spent time collecting statistics on the whales brought into the flensing station and going with the whalers in search of whales and seals which were hunted for their blubber. He had a good rapport with the men themselves and shared their harsh and uncomfortable living and working conditions. He made many observations in the field on the behaviour of sea lions, seals, albatross and penguins and describes going among their colonies. Matthews collected scientific data on their behaviour, anatomy and physiology. He also collected tales from the whalers themselves and had many yarns to tell. This enabled him to write his later popular books, Wandering Albatross and Sea Elephant.

On his return to Bristol he spent a number of years writing up and publishing papers for the Discovery Reports including three major monographs on the Humpback, Sei and Sperm whales. He also wrote South Georgia, the British Empire's Sub-Antarctic Outpost, a history of the Island and its ecology.


Matthews' book on South Georgia,...

During World War II he worked on radar for the Telecommunications Research Establishment and then with the RAF at Stradishall in Suffolk. He returned to Bristol in 1945 as Research Fellow at the University. Matthews became scientific director of the Zoological Society of London in 1951 where he remained until his retirement to Suffolk in 1966. During his years in London he served on the council of the Ray Society, was president, section D of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1959), the Association of British Zoologists (1960) the British Academy of Forensic Science and the Ray Society (1965). He was chairman, World List of Scientific Periodicals (1959-66) and of the Seals sub-committee of the Natural Environment Research Council (1967-71). He was involved in the founding of the Mammal Society, being chairman at its first gathering in 1955. He attended Discovery dinners and those of the Antarctic Club of which he was President in 1986. In 1939 he was awarded his Cambridge ScD and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1954. Matthews was awarded the Zoological Society of London's Silver Medal in 1985.

Matthews was profoundly influenced by his time spent in the Antarctic. He had many tales to tell and was able to entertain his friends, and of course, his family over the dinner table after long-lasting meals. In retirement he renovated the Old Rectory making it his family home and spent many happy hours growing fruit and vegetables and developing his three and a half acres.

After a series of strokes he died in November 1986.


Jean Trewhella


Leonard Matthews; South Georgia, the British Empire's Sub-Antarctic Outpost; Bristol: John Wright and Sons, 1931

Leonard Matthews; The Sperm whale, Physeter Catodon. (Discovery reports). Cambridge University Press. 1938

Leonard Matthews; Wandering Albatross: Adventures among the Albatrosses and Petrels in the Southern Ocean. London. Macgibbon & Kee, with Reinhardt & Evans: London. 1951

Leonard Matthews; Penguin. Adventures among the Birds, Beasts and Whalers of the Far South. Peter Owen: London.1977

Leonard Mathews; The Natural History of the Whale. Weidenfeld and Nicolson: London. 1978



July 2019 Text updated
September 2019 Additional photograph added; references added