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Please note, as our exhibitions change regularly, the boats, objects and pictures featured in this section may not now be on display in the museum. Please contact us on 01326 313388 for further information.

Leonard Hussey’s banjo

Leonard Hussey’s banjo
© NMM, London

Leonard Hussey, meteorologist on board the Endurance was an accomplished banjo player and frequently kept the crew entertained with weekly performances on his five string zither banjo. These Saturday evening sing-songs were rousing affairs with the men singing vulgar songs about one another.

The high point of the expedition came on mid-winter’s day, June 22, 1915, when the crew celebrated the return of the sun. The men staged a four hour “smoking concert” during which they all dressed in outlandish costumes and recited silly songs and verses. Hussey provided musical accompaniment dressed as a black minstrel.

When the Endurance finally sank, the men prepared to set out across the ice towards land. Shackleton allowed each man only 2lbs of possessions to take on the journey, including their boots. The only exception Shackleton made was with Hussey’s banjo. He insisted that it should be taken along, recognising its vital importance to the men’s morale. Shackleton told Hussey: “It’s vital mental medicine, and we shall need it.” He was right; the banjo provided hours of entertainment whilst the crew were waiting for rescue on Elephant Island.

The banjo has been signed by members of the Endurance crew and others. 'E.H. Shackleton, Frank Wild, Ruby Page le Brawn, Frank A. Worsley, L. Rickenson, George E. Marston, L.D.A. Hussey, A.H. Macklin, Frank Hurley, A.J. Kerr, F.W. Edwards, J.M. Wordie, T.O. Lees, C. Green, A. Cheetham, R.W. James, L. Greenstreet, Robert S. Clark, Harry McNeish'

The banjo was on display in the museum along with original equipment from Shackleton’s extraordinary voyage as part of the major exhibition: Endurance and Survival which ran 11 February 2006 – January 2007.

The banjo was returned to the National Maritime Museum, London in January 2014.

Please note, as our exhibitions change regularly, the boats, objects and pictures featured in this section may not now be on display in the museum. Please contact us on 01326 313388 for further information.

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