Wednesday, 12 March 2008
On 12 March 1941, the SS Politician was making her way from the United Kingdom to America, but was hopelessly lost in fog around the Hebrides. Although the captain thought he was near Skerryvore, he was in fact a good few miles further west, and heading into the narrow channel between the isles of South Uist and Eriskay. With a grinding crunch, the boat ran aground on a reef, just off Eriskay.
The Politician's crew decided she was not going to come off in a hurry, either refloated or sinking, so they rowed ashore at Eriskay and alerted the authorities. The islanders were alerted in the process and they went over to have a look around the wreck. Its cargo consisted of cases of Jamaican banknotes, several grand pianos, bathroom suites and... many thousands of cases of all kinds of whisky.
The story has become legendary, with the islanders helping themselves to unimaginable quantities of uisge bheatha [water of life] and having a high old time. Compton Mackenzie immortalised the story in his book Whisky Galore, changing a few names along the way. Apart from the whisky, the bathroom suites also found a good home. One set is reportedly still sitting outside a house in Eriskay, in daily use.
After a couple of days, the authorities intervened and retrieved part of the cargo. Several islanders were prosecuted for illegally retrieving goods off a wrecked ship. Bottles of 'polly' still turn up every now and again, If they have been in the sea, the spirits will have become undrinkable. But it's a nice story.