When the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition‘s three-masted barquentine, Endurance, was crushed in the Antarctic ice, expedition leader, Sir Ernest Shackleton, allowed each man to take off only two pounds of possessions, including their boots. The only exception Shackleton made was Leonard Hussey’s banjo, which weighed 12 pounds. Hussey was the meteorologist on board the Endurance and was an accomplished banjo player who had entertained the crew with weekly performances on his five string zither banjo Shackleton insisted that Hussey should take the banjo along for the sake of maintaining the crew’s morale. Shackleton told Hussey: “It’s vital mental medicine, and we shall need it.” While waiting for rescue, Hussey played popular tunes to entertain the crew every night during their ordeal. Leonard Hussey returned to England with the banjo and donated it to the National Maritime Museum.
The banjo has been the subject of several documentaries and at least one lawsuit. It is now also the inspiration for a new project to build “The Shackleton,” the first affordable British-made banjo in 60 years. The Great British Banjo Company has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise £30,000 to fund the only low-cost banjo genuinely manufactured in Britain, and the first production banjo to be manufactured in Britain for decades.