The story of the men of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship S.Y. Endurance

Leonard Duncan Albert Hussey

( 06/05/1891 – 25/02/1964 )


Awarded Silver Polar Medal (Clasp Only )


Leonard was born at Norman House. Norman Road. Leytonstone. London. He was one of four sons (James, William ,Leonard and Percy.) born to James and Eliza Hussey (nee Aitken ). They also had five daughters ( Maude,Beatrice, May, Blanche and Daisy). His father was employed in the stationery printing industry as a Machine Ruler, and at the turn of the century they were all living at 342 Kingsland Road. Leytonstone.London.

He was educated at the Strand School and Hackney P.T. Centre. and enrolled at the London University on 6th October 1909. In 1912 he gained a B.Sc. (second class) in Psychology from Kings College. London.

Leonard, was one of the many people who wrote to Shackleton in the hope of joining his expedition. He graduated from King’s College and had obtained degrees in Meteorology, Anthropology and Psychology. At the time of applying he had just finished expeditionary work in the Sudan, were he was engaged as an Anthropologist on the 1913 Wellcome Expedition and had received a salary of £8 per month !.

He had read that Shackleton was about to start recruiting for his intended Antarctic Expedition from an old newspaper he came across.

Shackleton granted Hussey an interview on his return home to England. M & J Fisher quote Hussey’s recollection of the interview in their 1957 book “Shackleton”…..

“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!”

He was the smallest man on the expedition and possibly the wittiest. During the expedition his banjo playing and his home made one-string violin,( the latter fashioned out of venesta wood from packing cases), combined with his jovial character, proved crucial in helping to raise the moral of his fellow crewmen, particularly during the days on the Ice and the long days spent on Elephant Island.

Hussey, was by no means expert at playing the banjo. Nor was he a stranger to performing under extreme circumstances. “ My banjo had been through many previous adventures with me, having among other things , been played to an audience of cannibals in Africa. Though but an indifferent performer on this instrument - it has always been my boast that I can just play well enough to annoy the neighbours!

Shackleton was not the least bit musical but he appreciated the effect that Hussey’s banjo playing had on his men . Hussey wrote : “Sir Ernest saved the banjo just before the ship sank saying that , we must have that banjo if we lose all our food , it’s vital mental medicine”.

The banjo was brought out on many occasions, sometimes to help celebrate the capture of food in the form of a seal or two or a number of penguins. During the time on Elephant Island a concert was usually held each Saturday night in the confines of the dark interior of the soot and tobacco smoke filled “snuggary”.

Hussey recorded that among their favourite songs were: Swanne River, Massa’s in the Cold Ground, Little Brown Jug and John Peel. Then there were the songs that the men composed themselves. These usually took the form of the men ridiculing one another. James wrote a splendid long ditty on Frank Wild which was titled “Antarctic Architecture” and sung to the tune of Solomon Levy:

My name is Frankie Wild-o! and my huts on Elephant Isle,
The most expert of architects could hardly name its style.
But as I sit all snug inside while outside blows the gale,
I think the pride is pardonable with which I tell my tale.

O Frankly Wild-o Wild-o tra-la-la-la
Mr.Franky Wild-o tra-la-la-la-la-la-la.
My name is Franky Wild-o and my hut’s on Elephant Isle
The wall’s without a single brick, and the roof without a tile,
But nevertheless you must confess, for many and many a mile
It is the most palatial dwelling place you’ll find on Elephant Isle.

The song continues for another four versus!

2nd Engineer A.J. Kerr was one of the least musically gifted of the men and a short song was composed especially for him:

When faces turn pale’ neath the soot and the grime;
When eyes start in terror as if caught in some crime;
When we beg on our knees to be let off this time;
Then you know that Kerr’s threatened to sing.

The Scotsman Robert Clark who it seems was always slow to grasp a joke, and told jokes too deep for others to understand, was immortalized in the following verse:

When such silence reigns you could hear a pin fall,
When we lie round in pain quite unable to crawl,
When a sense of depression hangs over us all,
Then you know that Clark’s just made a joke!

At times, Hussey was accompanied on his banjo by Dr.McIllroy, who provided splendid musical imitations, including trombone and bagpipes!

He eventually arrived back in England from South America aboard the Nelson Line’s “Highland Laddie” on 26th October 1916.

In WW1 he was commissioned on 19th January 1917 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery and saw much battle action in France, including St.Quentin and Dixmunde and also on the North Russia front. Shackleton had met up with Hussey and a number of other expedition members in London who all were to serve in the North Russia Expeditionary force. Hussey served with Shackleton on Operation Syren. By the time the war ended he held the rank of Captain.

He assisted Shackleton with his famous book “South” and did the final editing.

In 1921 he and Dr.Macklin jointly wrote an article “ Scurvy in Polar Regions” which was published in the “Lancet Journal”. Later that same year he was invited to join Shackleton’s last expedition and was appointed meteorologist and assistant surgeon on the “Quest”.

Hussey thought the world of Shackleton and it was he who escorted Shackleton’s body back to England from South Georgia. The plan was to change when Emily Shackleton requested that Sir Ernest be laid to rest on South Georgia, and it was again Hussey who made the necessary arrangements.

Once the war ended he resumed his career, which by now had changed direction into the medical profession .The General Medical Register of 1923 shows that 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 around the outbreak of WW11. and lived at 328 Clapham Road. London. S.W.9.

During WW11 he joined the Royal Air Force and in 1940 became a medical officer. He was posted to Iceland as First Senior Medical Officer to the R.A.F. with the rank of a Squadron Leader. Later he was to be stationed at R.A.F.Benson.London. His distinguished war record included the military O.B.E. (01/01/1946) and he was twice mentioned in despatches. (01/01/1945 and 14/05/1945)

In 1949 Hussey’s book “South with Endurance” was published which told his own version of the 1914 -16 expedition. That same year he served as ship surgeon on the S.S.Clan Macauley which sailed from England to South Africa and Australia.

He continued in practice as a G.P. in Hertfordshire up until around 1957, and kept his famous banjo on display in his consulting room. Also that year he became president of the Antarctic Club. Over the years he gave many lectures around the world about his Antarctic adventures, and in 1959 donated his famous Banjo with the British Maritime Museum (estimated to now be worth between £150,000 - £200,000 !)

For many years he had been involved with the Boy Scout movement through his friend Ralph Gullett a local Scout Leader, and was President of the Chorleywood Scout pack.

Hussey retired to Worthing in 1960 , and when ill health prevented him giving lectures on the Endurance expedition he passes his notes and lantern slides over to Ralph Gullett who continued to give lectures for charitable causes.

He was married for many years to Grace Muriel Hellstrom .The marriage produced no children. Leonard died in 1964 aged 72. His wife Grace, died in 1980. His estate passed on to his housekeeper Margaret Mock who died in 1999.


Leonard Hussey, presenting his Shackleton / Hussey trophy shield to the Chorleywood Scouts sometime in the early 1960’s.


Hussey’s Medals : O.B.E. (Military). British War Medal.
Mercantile Marine War Medal. Victory Medal. Defence Medal.
1939-45 War Medal ( with Oak leaf for mention in despatches)
Polar Medal (Bar Antarctic 1914-16) Along with his authority to wear medals for the Mercantile Marine.
The Medals and document are in Private Hands.

( photo © j.f.mann )

With grateful thanks to Dianne Young

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