In 1892, he read an important paper, The languages of British New Guinea, to the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists. In that paper, he established the distinction between the Austronesian and Papuan languages of New Guinea. Although he never held an academic position, and was employed throughout his working life as a school teacher, S. H. Ray was an energetic fieldworker, and participated in a number of expeditions.
His first fieldwork was carried out as part of A. C. Haddon's 1898 Torres Straits Expedition along with W. H. R. Rivers, C. G. Seligman and Anthony Wilkin. At the time Ray was a primary school teacher, who had already made a study of two Torres Straits languages on the basis of missionary publications and data supplied by Haddon.
The papers of Sidney Herbert Ray (PP MS 3) are held at SOAS Archives