Duncan Albert Hussey
1914-17 - (also referred
to as "banjo player" in the credits to the
Meteorologist, assistant surgeon
Quest - Ernest Shackleton 1921/1922
The Endurance Expedition
Like countless other
young men, Hussey wrote to Shackleton to request a position
on what would become the Endurance expedition, at
the time of his application, he had just returned from an
expedition to the Sudan where he had been employed as an
anthropologist. Hussey was lucky enough to be called for
interview with Shackleton, in Hussey's own words, it
went like this:
"He called for me,
looked me up and down, walked up and down when he was
talking to me, didn't seem to take any notice. Finally
he said, "Yes, I like you, I'll take you."
He told me afterwards he took me because he thought
I looked funny!"
of character was to prove uncanny as Hussey became an invaluable
addition to the crew in particular helping to raise the
spirits and moral of the other men with his ready wit and
banjo playing during the long days lost in the ice floes
and while waiting for rescue on Elephant Island.
He was not at all
expert at playing the banjo, though his instrument had been
with him on previous adventures, having even been played
to an audience of cannibals in Africa. Hussey had been prepared
to leave the banjo behind when the men were deciding what
to take across the ice with them and what to leave behind:
"We must have that
banjo if we lose all our food, it's vital mental
The banjo was brought
forth to celebrate the capture of food in the form of a
seal or penguin and during the time on Elephant Island,
a concert was held each Saturday night in the soot and tobacco
darkened confines of the "Snuggery." Favourite
songs were Swannee River, Massa's in the Cold Ground,
Little Brown Jug and John Peel. There were also many songs
written by the men themselves to existing tunes usually
about and ridiculing each other.
the scientific laboratory with Hussey
(right) examining the Dimes anemometer and
James (left) removing rime from
the dip-circle, the electrograph is on the right.
Hussey and sledge team
Leonard Hussey was
born in Leytonstone, London, England, one of nine children,
his father was in the printing industry.
He enrolled at the
University of London in 1909 gaining degrees in psychology,
meteorology and anthropology from the University of London
at Kings College.
On return to England,
like many of the other expedition members, Hussey became
a part of the War effort being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant
in the Royal Garrison Artillery and rising to the rank of
Captain by the end of the war. He saw much battle action
in France, including St. Quentin and Dixmunde and on the
North Russia front where he served once again with Ernest
Shackleton on operation Syren.
He remained in contact
with Shackleton and completed the final editing of Shackleton's
book of the 1914-17 Endurance expedition "South"
- without payment. In 1921, Shackleton invited Hussey to
join him on his last expedition to Antarctica aboard the
Quest as meteorologist and assistant surgeon as Hussey
had qualified in medicine since his return from the Endurance
Shackleton had been
ill with suspected heart disease (suspected because he would
not allow himself to be examined by a doctor) for some time.
He had put on weight and was smoking and drinking too much,
despite surviving a heart attack in Rio de Janeiro he pressed
on, but died of another heart attack on South Georgia.
Hussey accepted the
duty of escorting Shackleton's body back to England,
but by the time he reached Montevideo (Uruguay) a telegraph
was received from Shackleton's widow requesting that
her husband be laid to rest on South Georgia. Hussey returned
with the body and made the necessary arrangements. On March
5th 1922 Shackleton's body was laid to rest at the Norwegian
cemetery alongside the whalers.
After the end of
WW1, Hussey's career had turned towards medicine, by
1923 he was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and
a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. He was
in general medical practice in London up until 1940.
During WW2, he joined
the Royal Air Force as a medical officer being posted to
Iceland with the rank of Squadron Leader and then stationed
at RAF Benson in London. He had a distinguished war record
being twice mentioned in despatches. (01/01/1945 and 14/05/1945)
and receiving the Military OBE.
his own book "South with Endurance" in 1949, in
the same year he served as ship's surgeon on the S.S.Clan
Macauley which sailed from England to South Africa and Australia.
He continued to practise
as a G.P. in Hertfordshire until around 1957 the same year
that he became president of the Antarctic Club. Having been
on so famous an expedition, Hussey gave many lectures about
his Antarctic adventures until ill health in retirement
prevented him from continuing. He gave his notes and lantern
slides to a friend, Ralph Gullet, a local Scout Leader.
His famous banjo was donated to the British Maritime Museum
He was married to
Grace Muriel Hellstrom for many years - they had no children.
Leonard died in 1964 aged 72. Grace died in 1980.
your notes on Dr Hussey in Cool Antarctica
and notice that you mention that he gave
his lantern and notes to Ralph Gullet. I
can add that he wrote a lovely letter to
Ralph saying how difficult it was to part
with them but that "the lads would
be pleased to know that their story continued
to be told". The follow up to this
is that I took over presenting Dr. Hussey's
lecture on Ralph's behalf from 1990
and then just before he died he wrote a
similar letter to me asking for me to continue
to take the story forward. I have since
used the artifacts, notes and lecture over
the years ( about 200 presentations) to
raise monies for a wide variety of charities
ranging from the Shackleton Library at Scott
Polar, to sponsoring kids on the London
Sailing Project to providing gers for homeless
children in Mongolia.
Regards, Geoff Selley FRGS
I have just read the
references to Leonard Hussey. He was at RAF
station Halton, Bucks. when I was there in 1955/56.
I met him there, I think he was a GP looking
after families at the officers' married quarters.
I had previously read the book about Shackleton's
voyage and his mention of Hussey and his "Banjo"
(I thought it was a fiddle). So, when I chatted
with him and found out who he was, we had a
pretty long discussion. I found him to be a
quiet unassuming man, but with a glint in his
eye of fun and humour. I could well understand
Shackleton's keen appreciation of his good effect
on the morale of those concerned. It was
good to read about him and have more details
of his career. It fitted him so well. I left
RAF Halton and came to Canada in 1957, so I
had only a short glimpse of a great personality.
Thanks for reminding me.
Dr. Peter Roper
medals. Includes the Board of Trade's Permission
to Wear the WWI Mercantile Marine War Medal (green,
white and red ribbon).
These are held in a private
collection in North America. Picture courtesy
References to Leonard
Hussey in Shackleton's book "South!"
- The ship was blocked at one point
by a wedge-shaped piece of floe, but we put the
ice-anchor through it, towed it astern, and proceeded
through the gap. Steering under these conditions
required muscle as well as nerve. There was a clatter
aft during the afternoon, and
Hussey, who was
at the wheel, explained that "The wheel spun
round and threw me over the top of it!"
- Later there was a really splendid
dinner, consisting of turtle soup, whitebait, jugged
hare, Christmas pudding, mince-pies, dates, figs
and crystallized fruits, with rum and stout as drinks.
In the evening everybody joined in a "sing-song."
Hussey had made
a one-stringed violin, on which, in the words of
Worsley, he "discoursed quite painlessly."
The wind was increasing to a moderate south-easterly
gale and no advance could be made, so we were able
to settle down to the enjoyments of the evening.
- The quarters in the 'tween
decks were completed by the 10th, and the men took
possession of the cubicles that had been built.
The largest cubicle contained Macklin, McIlroy,
Hurley, and Hussey
and it was named "The Billabong".
- As the drift was mostly affected
by the winds, the weather was closely watched by
all, and Hussey,
the meteorologist, was called upon to make forecasts
every four hours, and some times more frequently
than that. A meteorological screen, containing thermometers
and a barograph, had been erected on a post frozen
into the ice, and observations were taken every
- "About a mile from Patience
Camp we had a welcome surprise. Sir Ernest and
out to meet us with dixies of hot tea, well wrapped
up to keep them warm.
- "Rickenson, who was still
very weak and ill, but very cheery, obtained a place
in the boat directly above the stove, and the sailors
having lived under the Stancomb Wills for a few
days while she was upside down on the beach, tacitly
claimed it as their own, and flocked up on to its
thwarts as one man. There was one ‘upstair'
billet left in this boat, which Wild offered to
Hussey and Lees
simultaneously, saying that the first man that got
his bag up could have the billet. Whilst Lees was
calculating the pros and cons
Hussey got his
bag, and had it up just as Lees had determined that
the pros had it. There were now four men up on the
thwarts of the Dudley Docker, and the five sailors
and Hussey on
those of the Stancomb Wills, the remainder disposing
themselves on the floor."
- Heavy bales of sennegrass, and
boxes of cooking-gear, were lifted bodily in the
air and carried away out of sight. Once the wind
carried off the floor-cloth of a tent which six
men were holding on to and shaking the snow off.
These gusts often came with alarming suddenness;
and without any warning.
Hussey was outside
in the blizzard digging up the day's meat, which
had frozen to the ground, when a gust caught him
and drove him down the spit towards the sea. Fortunately,
when he reached the softer sand and shingle below
high-water mark, he managed to stick his pick into
the ground and hold on with both hands till the
squall had passed.
- After supper they had a concert,
accompanied by Hussey
on his "indispensable banjo." This banjo
was the last thing to be saved off the ship before
she sank, and I took it with us as a mental tonic.
It was carried all the way through with us, and
landed on Elephant Island practically unharmed,
and did much to keep the men cheerful. Nearly every
Saturday night such a concert was held, when each
one sang a song about some other member of the party.
If that other one objected to some of the remarks,
a worse one was written for the next week.
- The demons of depression could
find no foothold when he was around; and, not content
with merely "telling," he was "doing"
as much as, and very often more than, the rest.
He showed wonderful capabilities of leadership and
more than justified the absolute confidence that
I placed in him. Hussey,
with his cheeriness and his banjo, was another vital
factor in chasing away any tendency to downheartedness.
- During the afternoon three adelie penguins approached
the ship across the floe while
Hussey was discoursing
sweet music on the banjo. The solemn-looking little
birds appeared to appreciate "It's a Long
Way to Tipperary," but they fled in horror
treated them to a little of the music that comes
from Scotland. The shouts of laughter from the ship
added to their dismay, and they made off as fast
as their short legs would carry them.
Clark, Robert S.
Green, Charles J.
Hudson, Hubert T.
Hurley, James F. (Frank)
Hussey, Leonard D. A.
James, Reginald W.
Kerr, A. J.
Macklin, Dr. Alexander H.
Marston, George E.
McIlroy, Dr. James A.
Motor Expert and Storekeeper
Shackleton, Ernest H.
Second in Command
Wordie, James M.