|Mr Hussey finds time to put his banjo down and pick up a large dog|
|The Explorer's Club poster image|
I knew about Frank Hurley's amazing photographs of the ship, the frosted rigging making the ship look like a spectral apparition trapped in the pack ice, but I didn't know anything about Leonard Hussey and his musical role in the expedition! Hussey was the expeditions Meterologist but was made part of the crew because he could play the banjo.
The importance of music was made clear as the Endurance was sinking through the Antarctic pack-ice, Ernest Shackleton allowed each member of his expedition to take 2lbs of possessions with them as they abandoned ship. One exception was made; while Hurley was wading through the ice cold water saving his photographic plates Shackleton dove in and saved Leonard Hussey's banjo saying, "We must have that banjo. It's vital mental medicine."
So it proved; when Shackleton set off in a small boat to sail to South Georgia to get help, he left behind twenty-two men on Elephant Island. There they lived for months under an upturned boat and old sails. Every Saturday the banjo-playing meteorologist put on a concert. He composed songs about the crew members and whenever they caught a seal to eat brought out his banjo. He played, the men sang - and anger and depression were kept at bay.
Leonard Hussey survived, as did his banjo, now in the National Maritime Museum, its skin marked with a dozen signatures of members of the failed expedition to the South Pole.
|Mr Hussey's banjo signed by the gang|
Hussey was interviewed in the 1950's for radio where amongst other things he talked about his banjo having seen action in warmer climes, "having among other things been played to an audience of cannibals in Africa."
Ah the magic and universality of music!