Sidney Frederic Harmer was born in Norwich on 9 March 1862. He studied natural science at University College, London, and King's College, Cambridge, where in 1885 he was appointed lecturer in zoology and, in 1892, superintendent of the University Museum of Zoology. In 1908, he was appointed keeper of zoology in the Natural History department of the British Museum, succeeding as director of the department from 1919 until his retirement in 1927. Harmer returned to the study of cetacea at the British Museum, publishing a series of reports on cetacea stranded on the British coasts.
In 1920, Harmer wrote an article on the position of the southern whaling industry for a report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Research and Development in the Dependencies of the Falkland Islands, established in 1918 to consider what scientific investigations were needed to preserve the Antarctic whaling industry. Four years later, Harmer was appointed vice-chairman of the Discovery Committee, a scientific group set up to develop the Hydrographic and oceanographic research programme recommended in the report of the Interdepartmental Committee.
He was knighted in 1920 and was awarded the gold medal of the Linnean Society in 1934. He died in Cambridge on 22 October 1950.
From the guide to the Sidney Harmer collection, 1922, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)