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Bids galore for whisky plucked from shipwreck made famous in book and film

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Whisky enthusiasts are bidding to get their hands on cargo from one of the most famous shipwrecks in history.

When the SS Politician ran aground off the coast of Eriskay in 1941, it was carrying 28,000 cases of malt whisky – filled with about 264,000 bottles.

Islanders couldn’t believe their luck and quickly conducted unofficial salvage missions to the wreck in the ensuing days, in an escapade captured in the comic book and film Whisky Galore.

Some locals went so far as to wear their wives’ dresses so that leaking engine oil from the hold would not get on their clothes and give them away to customs officials who visited the Hebrides to stamp out the practice.

Collectors are now fighting to purchase a bottle secured during a diving expedition decades later, which has gone up for auction online.

Offers will be accepted until Friday night with the current highest bid already approaching the guide price of £10,000.

Sellers from The Grand Whisky Auction website describe it as a “very exciting and rare bottling” which offers the chance to own “a piece of whisky history”.

The bottle was recovered by diver George Currie, from Orkney.

He was working on a subsea cable repair from South Uist to Eriskay when his team located the wreck.

The whisky onboard included Gilbey’s, Ballantine’s, VAT 69 and more and the lot up for sale includes an original poster from the 2016 remake of Whisky Galore, the diving helmet Mr Currie had on when he found it and bricks from the ship.

The auctioneer adds: “It is incredibly rare to recover a bottle from the wreck that has not been destroyed by the tides and the passage of time.”

The bottle which is up for auction

Beau Wallace, director at the Grand Whisky Auction said: “We are expecting interest from bidders worldwide seeking to add this rare bottle to their collection.”

The wider online auction at www.thegrandwhiskyauction.com will run until 9pm on Monday, July 13.

The opportunistic islanders who snapped up bottles in 1941 did so against marine salvage laws.

Because no duty had been paid on the whisky, members of HM Customs and Excise pursued and prosecuted those who had removed the cargo.

They undertook raids, arresting many and seizing the boats of those suspected of taking part.

Author Compton Mackenzie wrote Whisky Galore in 1947 and two years later transformed the novel into the screenplay for the legendary Ealing comedy filmed on Barra.

Due to the enduring popularity of the story, it was remade in 2016.

That version, starring Eddie Izzard and Gregor Fisher, was filmed along the north-east coast with several scenes featuring the Portsoy area.

Orkney man says sale of salvaged bottle will pay for 40th anniversary cruise
L-R: Top – Brian Foreman, George Grieve and Derek Pinnington<br />Bottom – George Currie and Alan Thomson

George Currie was deep beneath the waves off the west coast in June 1987 when he and his colleagues came upon the legendary shipwreck.

At the time, he jointly ran the Currie Brothers diving services firm, specialising in laying and repairing power cables to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

It was when called to an emergency fault nearby that the team decided to use their downtime to see if they could find the SS Politician.

Fuelled by optimism, company director Mr Currie, supervisor George Grieve and lead diver Brian Foreman all took part in the expedition.

It was Mr Foreman who managed to find the shipwreck – and some remaining bottles – submerged amid decades of sand and seaweed.

Mr Currie said: “We could easily have gone right over the top of the boat without knowing it was there.

“It was lucky we spotted it and, really, we didn’t expect there to be anything still there.

“But we also found telephones and knife blades in among all this cargo that was supposed to be heading out to the Carribean.

“I got one bottle, George got one and Brian kept three to himself.

“At the time, we just kept the whisky as a souvenir, and didn’t think too much about it.

“But it has been 33 years now and it feels like time to let it go, and let somebody else get the benefit.”

Mr Currie hoped to secure at least £8,000 from the sale, and it has already sailed past that mark.

He will spend the proceeds on a computer for his grandson at university and a cruise to celebrate he and his wife’s recent 40th wedding anniversary.

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