Whisky for all!

extremely old bottle
A whisky bottle salvaged from the wreck of the 'SS Politician' by Dr RR Morrison. The bottle has a warning embossed in it that the whisky was not for consumption in Britain but solely for the American market. Maker - James Martin and Co ltd, Leith. Accession number CENM2010.40

When the locals learned from the crew what the ship was carrying, a series of illegal salvage operations took place on the night of the stranding before the customs and excise officials arrived. The whisky was especially welcome because the island's had dried up due to war-time rationing. So the islanders helped themselves to some of the 28,000 cases (264,000 bottles) of Scotch malt, which had been destined for the American market.

No islander regarded it as stealing because the rules of salvage meant that once it was in the sea, it was theirs to rescue. As word of the 'Polly' whisky spread, people came in small boats from islands closest to Barra, Lewis, Mull and the mainland. Rumours spread that the 'Polly' whisky even had magical qualities and didn't cause hangovers!

The two whisky bottles shown on this page are from the collection of the UK Border Agency national museum. They were both on display for the 70th anniversary of the sinking, one in the Maritime Archives and Library display from 21 January to 27 March 2011, and the other in a showcase in Seized! The Border and Customs uncovered from 21 January to 8 May 2011.

extremely old bottle encrusted with barnacles
Whisky bottle thought to have been among the thousands stranded when the 'SS Politician' ran aground in 1941. The bottle has clear signs that it has been immersed in seawater. Accession number CENM2010.31