Six of the bottles on board have resurfaced and are offered next month at Bonhams’ Whisky Sale in Edinburgh (June 5), where each is estimated at £6000-8000. They comprise four from Gilbey’s, one from Ballantine’s and one VAT 69.
The ship ran aground off the Island of Eriskay, but the crew survived and were looked after by the locals, whose whisky supplies had dried up in war-time rationing. A series of illegal and well-organised salvage operations were staged and the locals helped themselves to the stock of 336,000 bottles of Scotch whisky.
The series of operations was retold in Compton MacKenzie’s 1947 novel Whisky Galore (later remade as an Ealing Studios film).
At the time of the wreck, the raids were condemned by customs officer Charles McColl, who searched villages and homes for evidence. Many of the ‘offenders’ were caught, fined and sent to prison for up to six weeks. Determined that locals would be forbidden access to the drink, McColl eventually dynamited the ship’s hull.
The bottles at Bonhams, on the other hand, were salvaged legally in 1990 and are accompanied by copies of the letter of declaration from HM Customs.
Each bottle is stamped: Federal Law Forbids Sale or Re Use of This Bottle around the shoulder, a phrase that appeared on all liquor bottles offered in the US from 1935-64 to discourage the spread of illegal distilled or moonshine spirits.