Captured in Time: 8-Year-Old Percy Hemingway upon Arrival in America in 1890

The Little Fellow Crossed the Atlantic Alone

Megan Smolenyak
6 min readMar 25, 2022

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Percy Hemingway, age 8

Percy Hemingway was a little boy with a big tag and minimal luggage when he made the journey from England to America by himself at the advanced age of eight. Fellow passengers on the S.S.Teutonic said he showed no fear and required little assistance.

Ellis Island was under construction, so when he arrived in New York on November 6, 1890, he was processed at the Barge Office. The tag attached to his coat explained that he was to be forwarded to his father in Philadelphia, so that may be how he came to meet E.W. Austin, the money changer whose station was near the booth for railroad tickets.

Percy’s departure and arrival (Ancestry)

Austin was intrigued by this pint-sized, solo voyager and asked to take his photo. Luckily for Percy’s future descendants, he agreed. When he did, he became part of Austin’s collection of immigrant photos taken between 1890 and 1892, predating by a generous margin the better known photographs of Augustus Sherman (roughly 1904 to 1924) and Lewis Hine (1905–1909 and 1926).

It’s also thanks to his photo that I was able to identify E.W. Austin as the man behind the camera. Since the picture was included in an album owned by John B. Weber, the Commissioner of Immigration who oversaw the opening of Ellis Island, I had long thought that Weber was the likely photographer. But an 1891 Harper’s Weekly article included a sketch that I instantly recognized as Percy, as well as other drawings from the collection (now housed at the NPS library at Ellis Island), and the helpful explanation that these illustrations by Thure de Thulstrup were based on photos taken by E.W. Austin.

“from England without escort” (Harper’s Weekly, 24 October 1891)

Percy, whose full name was Harold Percy Hemingway, was born on July 6, 1882 in Horbury, England to Levi and Ann (Shaw) Hemingway. He was the middle of three brothers, sandwiched between Wilfred and Herbert, but Herbert died in 1886 and was soon…

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Megan Smolenyak

Genealogical adventurer & storyteller who loves solving mysteries! You may not know me, but chances are you’ve seen my work. (www.MeganSmolenyak.com)