The last voyage

detail showing hand written notes in a log book
Deck log of the 'SS Politician' showing the entry for 5 February, where Captain Worthington recorded the grounding of the ship.
B/HAR/ 7/2/2/1, Harrison Line Archive, Courtesy of Charente Ltd

The 'Politician' left Liverpool on 4 February 1941 with orders to sail to the north of Scotland to join a convoy and to sail onto Jamaica and the USA. She was carrying a mixed cargo which included motor cars, bicycles, cotton, tobacco and about £145,000 in bank notes, as well as 28,000 cases of finest malt whisky. The whisky had been removed from two bombed-out warehouses in Leith and Glasgow. It was designated by customs for export, to be drunk in the USA and "not in the land it was distilled, matured and blended". Britain was sending luxury goods to the USA to raise cash for the war effort.

On the morning of 5 February as the 'Politician' made her way north across the Irish Sea towards the Hebrides, the wind increased to gale force, the sea became rough and visibility reduced. Her master, Liverpudlian Captain Beaconsfield Worthington, set a course for the Minch, the channel between Skye and the Outer Hebrides.

At 7.40am Chief Officer RA Swain reported seeing what appeared to be a ship loom up very close on the starboard bow, but immediately realised it was land. Captain Worthington was called to the bridge but a few minutes later at 7.45am the 'Politician' struck submerged rocks on the northern side of the island of Eriskay. The rocks tore the bottom plating from under the stokehold, engine room and holds number 4 and 5. Water started to pour in, filling the engine room, and the ship's propeller shaft was broken. The 'Politician' was grounded, motionless at the mercy of the pounding sea and in danger of breaking up. The SOS distress signal was immediately sent out.