Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Humphries, Sydney Vernon (1907 - 1982)

MRCS 1932; FRCS by election 1969; BA Cambridge 1929; MA 1935; LRCP 1932.

24 January 1907
Middelburg, Cape Province, South Africa
1 July 1982
Johannesburg, South Africa
General surgeon and Medical Officer


Sydney Vernon Humphries, the eldest child of Sydney William Humphries, a bank manager, and Violet Humphries (née Kirkman), was born on 24 January 1907 at Middelburg, Cape Province, S Africa. He was educated at Michaelhouse, Natal, and Pembroke College, Cambridge, before entering St Thomas's Hospital where he qualified in 1932. After resident medical appointments at Albert Dock Hospital, and Hope Hospital, Salford, he was resident anaesthetist at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, and senior house surgeon at Hertford County Hospital. He returned to South Africa in 1935 as a medical officer in the gold mines and, on the outbreak of the second world war he enlisted in the South African Army Medical Corps and served in East Africa and the Western Sahara.

Following the war he returned to the mine hospitals, but, being keen to work in other countries, he took appointments in Nassau, Nauru Island in the Pacific and at Tennant Creek, Australia. His love of Africa and an ambition to serve the underprivileged of the world drew him back to mission hospital work in Transvaal, Zimbabwe, and the former Pondoland and Bechuanaland. In 1969 he became FRCS by election and this gave him great pleasure shortly before his retirement to Malaga, Spain, in 1973. Whilst living there he befriended Mrs Veta Bailey, the widow of Hamilton Bailey, and thus came to write a biography of that surgeon for whom he had a profound admiration. He had written many other articles and books, the best known of the latter being Black magic and white medicine, drawn from his personal experience.

Vernon Humphries was a man of great integrity and good humour whose life was typified by a complete lack of self-interest. In 1936 he had had the good fortune to marry Mareuil Coetzee, a physiotherapist, who was his constant companion and support throughout his dedicated and wayfaring existence. He finally died in Johannesburg on 1 July 1982, after a painful illness borne with great fortitude and was survived by his wife.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Life of Hamilton Bailey, Ravenswood, Ltd, 1973; S Afr med J 1982, 62, 494].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England