Whisky Galore! Half-full bottle of Scotch from wreck that inspired a famous movie sells for £2k

A half full bottle of export Scotch from the shipwreck that inspired the much-loved book and movie Whisky Galore! has fetched £2000 at auction.

By George Mair
Thursday, 4th November 2021, 12:30 pm

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The clear glass bottle marked for James Martin & Co., Leith, Scotland, was on board the SS Politician, which ran aground in 1941 near the island of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides.

Its story, including the islanders who removed bottles under the noses of the authorities, inspired author Compton MacKenzie's famous 1947 novel and two subsequent films.

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Golden treasure from the sea: A rare bottle of blended Scotch recovered from the wreck of the SS Politician.

Diver Reg Vallintine recovered the blended Scotch in 1966, and kept the rare artefact in his study at home for 55 years before deciding to sell it at auction.

The 10.5in bottle, complete with its embossed foil cap over cork, was among the highlights of Charles Miller auctioneers' sale of maritime and scientific models, instruments and art, in London.It was bought by a private collector, together with two empty whisky bottles recovered during the same dive, for £2542.

Auctioneer Charles Miller, a maritime specialist, said: "The whisky and some empty bottles were recovered by renowned diver Reg Vallintine in 1966. Over time he gave most of them away but kept these ones on display in his study.

Diver Reg Vallintine with the bottle of Scotch he recovered from the sea off Eriskay.

"The half-full bottle was full at the time but has since evaporated. Reg mentioned that he did open a bottle, but it tasted of rotten eggs which was likely to be caused by the reaction of the cork with the whisky and the seawater.

"It is unusual to sell lots recovered from this wreck where the complete provenance is known and the details of by whom and when exactly items were recovered makes these bottles even more interesting."

The 8000-ton SS Politician was bound for Kingston in Jamaica and New Orleans packed with a mixed cargo including 264,000 bottles of whisky and eight cases of Jamaican banknotes to the value of £3m.

Ill-fated: The S.S. Politician

When it ran aground near the island of Eriskay, the crew were rescued unharmed and much of the Scotch on board was removed by islanders who hid them in crofts and houses and even buried some at secret locations across the island.

No duty had been paid on the spirits, so Customs and Excise came after the islanders.

In 2011, Father Calum MacLellan, then 84, said: "I suppose the bigger thing was hiding it, especially from the Customs officers, and that produced a lot of hilarity," said Fr MacLellan.

But locals weren't just helping themselves to the water of life.

Reg (second from right) and his diving pals with their haul of the S.S. Politician's cargo.

According to the priest, "the whole island was swathed in linen" from the Politician's hold - and further treasures remained on board.

He said: "There were bicycles on it but we couldn't use them because there was no road on island.

"There was a grand piano as well but none of our homes was big enough to accommodate a grand piano."

Scots author MacKenzie, when he told the story in his 1947 novel Whisky Galore!, re-christened the ship the SS Cabinet Minister and renamed the islands of South Uist and Eriskay as Great and Little Todday.

The tale inspired a 1949 Ealing Comedy starring Gordon Jackson, Joan Greenwood and Basil Radford, remade in 2016 with a cast including Gregor Fisher, Eddie Izzard and James Cosmo.

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