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Hussey, Leonard Duncan Albert

Hussey, Leonard Duncan Albert

Alias: Uzbird

Title: Mr

Dates: 1891-1964

Nationality: British

Awards: Polar Medal (silver)

Leonard Hussey was born and raised in Leytonstone, London, the sixth child but only son in his family. He earned a BSc from King's College, London, in meteorology, anthropology, and psychology in 1912, and the next year he joined an archaeological dig at Jebel Moya in the Sudan. During this expedition, which had been organised by Henry Wellcome, Hussey read in a month-old newspaper of Shackleton's plans for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Hussey wrote to Shackleton and was invited for an interview.

As was often the case with Shackleton, Hussey's interview followed no regular format, although Shackleton was amused to have received an application from Africa. 'He called for me, looked me up and down, and 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!' (Fisher and Fisher, Shackleton, 1957: 313)

Although taken on as meteorologist, Hussey was perhaps not as dedicated to his research as most of his scientific colleagues. He did install a meteorological box on a platform over the stern of Endurance, which contained thermometers, a barograph, a thermograph, and, on the top of it, a Robinson's anemometer. When Endurance sank, the monthly records were saved, although the detailed tracings were lost. Hussey's simplistic conclusion was that the best weather in the Weddell Sea comes in the winter, but that 'during that season the sun also disappears, so that one cannot enjoy it as much as one would like' (Shackleton, South, 1919: 356).

Hussey's greatest value on the expedition was his humour, wit, and keen repartee, which along with his frequent playing of his banjo, helped maintain the morale of the expedition members throughout their many travails. So significant did Shackleton consider Hussey’s banjo playing that he made taking the instrument an exception to his order that only two pounds per person could be taken from Endurance. He continued to entertain his fellows throughout the long stay at Elephant Island. For his many contributions, Hussey was later awarded the Polar Medal in silver.

Hussey returned to England on the ship Highland Laddie in October 1916. He soon joined the Royal Garrison Artillery in France, and later served in north Russia with Shackleton, eventually rising to the rank of captain. Following the war, he qualified in medicine and also assisted in the final editing of Shackleton’s book 'South'. In 1921 he joined the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition 1921-22 (Quest) as meteorologist and assistant surgeon. After Shackleton's death on South Georgia, Hussey volunteered to escort his body back to England, but upon reaching Montevideo, he received a message from Emily Shackleton saying that her husband should be buried at South Georgia. He turned around and took Shackleton back to Grytviken.

Hussey practiced medicine in London until 1940, when he became a medical officer for the Royal Air Force. He received an OBE in 1946. After the war, he took up medical practice in Hertfordshire, where he remained until 1957; he also briefly served as ship's surgeon. His book 'South with Shackleton' was published in 1949, and he lectured regularly about the expedition, eventually becoming president of the Antarctic Club. In 1959 he donated his banjo to the National Maritime Museum, London, where it is now valued at more than £150,000. Hussey died in 1964 aged 72.

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