Yesterday, Malcolm was browsing his mother-in-law’s bookshelves. He settled down, post-prandial and seasonal glass of Black Bush at hand, to renew his acquaintance with Compton Mackenzie’s delicious Whisky Galore (note: 1947 and still deservedly in print. The exclamation mark arrived only with the 1949 film adaptation).
Today, by coincidence, he picked up the mystery of the empty sixty-foot long cylinder, washed up at Benbecula, that turns out to be a Coors beer fermentation vessel.
Whisky Galore, of course, describes the effect of a ship-wreck, involving 28,000 cases of export whisky, between the two fictional islands of Great and Little Todday, and in the great drought of wartime.
Quite what the islanders would have thought, today, of the dubious benison of several thousand gallons of American fizzy beer defies even Malcolm’s imagination.
Mackenzie’s original conceit was derived from the sinking of the SS Politician at Eriskay, and he based the topography on Eriskay and Barra. From Barra (where, by choice, Mackenzie is buried) it can only be a couple of dozen miles to where the Coors cylinder arrived.
There is a further twist to the story, about which Mackenzie was apparently ignorant. Also on board the SS Politician was a large consignment of ten-shilling notes, nearly £150,000 in worth, apparently bound for the West Indies. As wikipedia has it:
By 1958 the Crown Agents reported that 211,267 notes had been recovered by the salvage company and the police and had been destroyed. A further 2,329 had been presented in banks in England, Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, Malta, Canada, the US and Jamaica. Only 1,509 were thought to have been presented in good faith. That still leaves 76,404 banknotes which have never been accounted for. Like the whisky, their fate remains a mystery.
There may also be a few heirloom bottles of “Polly” still out there, too. In 1987, eight were sold at auction for a total of £4,000.
For once, Malcolm can claim no direct link to these events. It does faintly remind him, though, of the prevalence of Spanish brandy in the County Cork in the late 1950s. This was the result of a profitable barter scheme involving Cork fishermen swapping pilchards for the hard stuff.