Saturday, 5 February 2011

SS "Politician" runs aground off Eriskay - this day in Scottish Military History - 1941

A bit of a tenuous military connection to today's "On this day.." since it is about a shipwreck of a merchant ship due to a storm. However it happened during wartime and the contents of the ship's hold were rationed in the UK at the time.

The ship in question was the Steamship "Politician" which ran aground onto the rocks off Eriskay on this day seventy years ago. Hundreds of merchant ships were lost during the war due to enemy action or an act of God, but this one was special to the locals because amongst its cargo were 28,000 cases of malt whisky.

The ship didn't break up when it hit the rocks and the crew escaped to shore and were taken in by nearby islanders. Word soon spread round the island that 264,000 bottle of whisky were on their doorstep. Soon men from Eriskay and other Hebridean islands were making night time trips to the ship. Apart from whisky there were also thousands of ten shilling notes destined for Jamaica and they too started to disappear from the ship.

A local customs officer was well aware of what was happening and eventually managed to get the hull of the 'Politician' blown up which allowed the forces of nature to complete the job of destroying the ship and what was left of its cargo. He was too late to stop at least 24,000 untaxed bottles of whisky and an undisclosed sum of money making their way into circulation though.

The incident was made into the Ealing comedy "Whisky Galore!" in 1949. Being based on Compton McKenzie's 1947 novel of the same name. In a rare move for the time most of the film was shot in location in the Hebrides with Barra standing in for the fictitious Island of Todday. Here's a wee taster...

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