Lost bottles of whisky from 1940s shipwreck resurface in house on Scottish island

By Sophie Beckwith | 08 February 2016

Two intoxicating looted treasures of a secretive 1940s export booze cruise have been found on an island 75 years after their shipwreck

A photo of ancient bottles of whisky on a green surfaced table next to a banknote
Only eight bottles of the SS Politician whisky were thought to still exist - until now© Fiona McKenzie
Two lost bottles of whisky which sank when a steamer full of liquor was mysteriously shipwrecked between Scotland and North America 75 years ago have resurfaced following a tip-off by a long-serving archivist on an island on the edge of the Inner Hebrides.

Men embarking on what customs officials described as “illegal fishing trips” are thought to have recovered the SS Politician bottles of malt whisky, which were originally part of a 264,000-bottle bounty bound for Jamaica and New Orleans from Liverpool, in the years following its sinking off the Island of Eriskay, on the west coast of Scotland, in 1941.

A photo of a large stone building with a scottish blue and white flag hanging from its entrance
The house contains one of the world's finest Gaelic library© National Trust for Scotland
Held at Canna House, a National Trust island property which is the home of 19th century author John Campbell’s Gaelic archive, the whiskies predate a set of eight bottles from the ship rescued by divers in 1987. Similar bottles from the ship have sold for more than £6,000 at auction, although organisers at the house say they have no plans to sell their newly-discovered treasures.

“According to the previous archivist, the bottles have always been at the house,” says Fiona McKenzie, the current archivist at Canna, who took a photo of the bottles alongside a Jamaican bank note and cigar box from the wreck, which was reportedly carrying the equivalent of millions of pounds in Jamaican money in today’s terms.

A photo of a serene blue sea in front of a large Scottish island
The Isle of Canna© National Trust for Scotland
“She was here from the 1960s and that’s well before the diver brought up eight bottles in 1987, so it looks like we may have two bottles that are not included in the official stats.”

The unharmed crew of the ship sparked a salvage operation by telling residents about the 28 cases of whisky their vessel had been carrying at a time when the spirit was scarce in Scotland.

The fishermen are said to have worn women’s clothes to prevent their own from becoming covered in incriminating oil when they dredged up the bottles. Whisky Galore, writer Compton Mackenzie’s 1947 film, is said to have been inspired by the wreck.

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Three museums to find out about shipwrecks in

Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade Watch House
Packed full of fascinating and unique artefacts of the Brigade's history, including the Ship's bell from one of the Shipwrecks that led to the creation of the Brigade in 1864. Behind every picture and relic is a captivating story about how it links into both the Brigade's past and present role as a Voluntary Life Brigade on the North Tyneside Coastline.

Shipwreck Museum, Hastings
The Shipwreck Heritage Centre, opened in 1986, is acknowledged as one of the best of its kind in the United Kingdom and was visited by HM The Queen in 1997. It contains an interesting and varied collection of artefacts from several wrecks, and has on display a unique collection of wooden rudders from the 15th to 18th Centuries.

The Isle of Wight Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Museum
Martin Woodward, a professional diver by trade, has amassed a huge collection of artefacts personally recovered by him from under the sea, and he is still actively diving on wrecks and archaeological projects worldwide.
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An outstanding example of work from the Josef Goebbals School of Journalism.

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