Brown haired woman plays Shackleton wooden violin on the deck of Royal Research Ship Discovery. V&A Dundee can be seen in the background.
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Folk Musician Plays ‘Shackleton Violin’ aboard Discovery

During a residency on Fife’s tranquil coastline supported by Arts Council England, folk musician Georgia Shackleton – of The Shackleton Trio – journeyed across to Dundee to visit RRS Discovery and Discovery Point, and play onboard Captain Scott’s iconic vessel, bringing with her an instrument with deep connections to the ship and its crew, particularly Ernest Shackleton.

Intricately crafted by Edinburgh luthier, Steve Burnett, the ‘Shackleton Violin’ has been built using driftwood salvaged from Fife’s coast, paired with wood sourced from the floorboards of Ernest Shackleton’s Edinburgh residence. The essence of the violin revolves around sustainability, conservation and care for the astonishing yet fragile wealth of marine life found within rivers, seas and oceans globally; to be used to create ‘A Voice for The Sea’. Amongst the violin’s nuances, perhaps most pertinent are the inscriptions of all twenty-eight crew members’ names from Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ expedition.

Whilst playing the Shackleton Violin in the Ward Room of RRS Discovery, Georgia Shackleton – a distant relative of the heroic explorer – described the sense of importance and connection between object, place, and a drive towards conservation of the natural world.

It’s amazing to be right here next to Shackleton’s cabin.

Georgia Shackleton

It was a pleasure to hear newly composed pieces such as ‘Elephant Island’ played in the Ward Room, a venue in which the ornate violin appeared to have been destined to grace; its exquisite aged wood and intricacies replicating the majestic, antique accents found within the ship’s most decorative dwelling.

Georgia discussed the significance of the occasion, and the impact of creativity on environmental awareness, with some of the Dundee Heritage Trust team.

Brown haired woman plays Shackleton wooden violin on the deck of Royal Research Ship Discovery. V&A Dundee can be seen in the background.
Georgia Shackleton on the Bridge of Royal Research Ship Discovery.

With your work being so place bounded in nature, have you found any new inspirations and influences whilst on residency in Fife?

“Even though I live not so far from the coast in Norwich, most of what I write about where I live is inspired by the farmland and heathland around me; where I was brought up and where I had friends. Actually coming here and writing right next to the sea (even though I do sometimes write about marine life) has really made me consider that a lot more. I think it’s something that I’ll consider a lot more when I go home, writing more about that kind of landscape and the sea creatures and seascape around us in Norfolk as well.”

How does it feel then, to be on board the Royal Research Ship Discovery now – a ship that is so important for the UK’s maritime history, and indeed conservation?

“It’s amazing to be right here next to Shackleton’s cabin. All these things coming together. Being very very loosely related far down the way, and then we’ve got the Shackleton violin built by Steve Burnett here. Inside the instrument, his mission for the violin is for it to be a ‘Voice for the Sea’ and that’s what he brought. Everyone on these expeditions would’ve been fighting hard today if they were still alive, so it seems very appropriate to bring this instrument on board here and play it. It’s really cool.”

Black and white portrait of Ernest Shackleton. Side view. Shackleton is wearing a light grey suit jacket and white collared shirt. Plain backdrop.
Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton.

With your upcoming project around sea shanties, does being here in the Wardroom of RRS Discovery change your view on sea shanties and your understanding of them?

“I’m going to go to the Vaughan William’s memorial library down at Cecil sharp house in London, to explore some of the sea songs and shanties that have been recorded and sung on some of these expeditions. Maybe I’ll record some of those and see if I can come up [to RRS Discovery] again. Who knows! It’s just really nice for this all to come together.“

Have you found any nuances with the Shackleton violin? You mentioned that your tools influence your work?

“You get so used to playing your own instrument, no matter what that instrument may be. This violin sounds completely different, I think the tunes that I’ve written in the last few days and the style of tunes that come out of it are different to what I’d usually write. It has felt really good.

“It’s interesting how in here it sounds so different to where I’m staying. I might have to write a quick wee tune while I’m here!”

Looking down the mahogany table of RRS Discovery's wardroom. At the end of the table, a black and white portrait of Captain Scott is hung. Wooden chairs line each side of the table. Two round white lamps hang above from white overhead beams.
Wardroom of the Royal Research Ship Discovery.

What role can the creative industries play in addressing the climate crisis?

“Awareness is a huge part of it, and how you use what you write about to raise awareness, can help. With this instrument especially, I think Steve takes it in to schools and has lots of plans for doing stuff with young people and schools. That in itself, having built this instrument and being able to link it to that legacy, is going to draw and inspire a lot of school children.

“Anything that you write, if it has a soul or a purpose, is going to connect with someone. Maybe somebody who wouldn’t have… you might get someone thinking.

“Anything in the creative industries has great potential for big impact.”

On the left half of the image, blue gradient. On the right, a suspended model of Earth, with a layered wooden backdrop.
British artist Luke Jerram's 'Gaia' climate artwork in Discovery Dome.

Many thanks again to Georgia Shackleton for bringing the Shackleton Violin to the Royal Research Ship Discovery and sharing beautiful compositions with our team.

Hear the wonder of the Shackleton Violin played in the Wardroom of Discovery in this video!

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