Esca Morris Humphery (1876-1961) was born in Sydney and attended Sydney Grammar School in 1887-94. He graduated in Medicine from the University of Sydney in 1903. For the next ten years he was a medical officer in hospitals in Maclean, Bellingen and Lismore in northern New South Wales. He served in the Australian Army Medical Corps during World War I. In 1919 he returned to Sydney and established a practice in Macquarie Street. He served on the council of the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association and was President in 1930. He was an honorary surgeon at the North Shore Hospital, and the honorary secretary (1926-44) and chairman (1944-56) of the Central District Ambulance. He was made a Knight of the Order of St John in 1950.

E.M. Humphery had a strong interest in Australian history and was a member of the Council of the Royal Australian Historical Society from 1940 to 1948. His particular passion was the history of Australian shipping and in his later years he lectured regularly on ships, shipping companies, wrecks, lighthouses, harbours and related subjects. In 1937-40, for instance, he gave 38 lectures on these subjects, illustrated with lantern slides. When Humphery died in 1961, Keast Burke wrote that ‘his death might be said to represent the end of an epoch – namely, the public lecture with the 3¼ in. by 3¼ in. slide’. In the course of his lecturing, he assembled a huge collection of negatives, lantern slides and albums.


The Humphery Collection of negatives and albums was donated to the Library by his daughter, Mrs H.W. McKay, in 1962. The family added the lantern slides to the collection in 1966 and a camera and photographic equipment in 1977.



The Humphery Collection is the largest collection on Australian ships in the National Library. It comprises about 6500 lantern slides, glass negatives and photographic prints. While the bulk of the photographs depict ships, especially sailing ships, there are also photographs of harbours, wharves, towns, hospitals and other subjects. There are also photographs of Humphery as a boy and young man, members of his family and friends.

In addition, there are 18 albums of photographs, dating from about 1890 to 1950. Most of them are of ships, ship models, Sydney Harbour and coastal scenes, but a few of the albums contain photographs of family groups, animals, trains, river scenes, landscapes and overseas travel.

Personal papers

The Humphery Collection contains two cutting books on shipping and naval subjects (c. 1902-32), loose cuttings, notes for lectures on ships, shipping companies, ferries, flag signals, lighthouses and other subjects, and a volume containing lists of lantern slides (1934-53). There is also a typescript by F. Carr entitled ‘Emigration in the eighties; from England to New Zealand in the Lady Jocelyn’.


The lantern slides, glass slides, prints and albums are held in the Pictures Collection. The photographic prints in the Humphery Collection are dispersed under many different subject headings. Most of them can be found filed under Cargo ships, Ferries, Naval ships, Paddle steamers, Passenger Ships, Ships: casualties, Ships: miscellaneous, Sailing ships, Small ships and Steam and sail ships. Other headings include Bellingen, Circular Quay, Hospitals: NSW, Lismore, National parks: NSW, Newcastle, Schools: NSW, Sydney Harbour, and Wharves and ports: NSW. The family photographs are housed under Humphery Family in the portraits run. The albums, which have been individually catalogued, are also held at various locations. A small number of photographs in the collection have been digitised.

The personal papers are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 5252. A finding aid is available online.


Obituary of E.M. Humphery, Australian Popular Photography, vol. 12 (1) Nov. 1961, p. 12

Obituary of E.M. Humphery, The Sydneian, no. 348, Dec. 1961, p. 119