Whisky found stashed on warship after 35 years

A small bottle of Canadian whisky that was hidden on an Australian warship for 35 years has finally been discovered.

An image posted on Reddit showing the bottle being cut from its 35-year-old hiding place

The miniature of six-year-old MacNaughton Canadian Whisky, wrapped in insulation tape, was apparently hidden inside the forward starboard leg of the main mast of HMAS Sydney by the team that built her at the Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle in 1982. The date, 10 April 1982 was also scribbled on the label.

The little bottle then went undiscovered for 35 years while Sydney sailed the seas, completing two round-the-world voyages in addition to other operations.

The Adelaide-class frigate was decommissioned in 2015 and towed to Henderson near Perth in May of this year to be scrapped.

Earlier this month however, a former employee of Todd who had built Sydney got in touch with Birdon – the company that has been charged with breaking up the vessel – to tell them the secret. Cutting away a section of the mast soon revealed the hidden spirit and it was brought out of its metal cocoon.

A former crewman on HMAS Sydney, Brenton Friend, was quoted in Australian media as saying: “the amount of times I’ve walked past that post and not knowing, if only”.

By 1983, when HMAS Sydney came into service with the Royal Australian Navy, traditions such as the ration of a tot of rum were long a thing of the past. The rum ration was stopped in the British and Canadian navies in the 1970s, although it continued with the Royal New Zealand Navy until 1990. The RAN however had halted the practice as early as 1921, making the little bottle even more of an illicit stowaway than it might have been otherwise.

Over the last three and a half decades, the frigate (and the bottle) has travelled 959,627 nautical miles – over 1.7 million kilometres or 1.1m miles.

During its service the ship has earned four fresh battle honours for service in East Timor and the Persian Gulf (in addition to 10 honours given to previous incarnations of HMAS Sydney), took part in anti-narcotic operations in the Caribbean, anti-piracy missions in the Indian Ocean, evacuated Australian citizens from Fiji and Bougainville during periods of civil unrest, was the first Australian warship to visit Sweden and the Russian port of Vladivostok and led the Australian fleet into Sydney harbour for the fleet review in 2009.

The fate of the little bottle may be sealed however, as reports seem to suggest its discoverers will drink it. Hopefully this will not happen. To begin with it would almost be a wasteful end for the spirit which has been on such an extraordinary voyage. Perhaps a place in the Australian National Maritime Museum or Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre (both in Sydney, fittingly) would be a better place for it?

Furthermore, as ‘part’ of the ship – not having been carried for consumption or other use – the drinks business would like to know if this is the first bottle of whisky (or anything else for that matter) that can be considered to have won battle honours?


*Which include two of just three single-ship actions awarded since the start of the 20th century; the first by the Town class HMAS Sydney for its destruction of the German cruiser SMS Emden in 1914 and the second for the Leander class Sydney’s sinking of the German cruiser Kormoran in 1941.

9 Responses to “Whisky found stashed on warship after 35 years”

  1. Mark Dotson says:

    Wow.this information is so cool! Thanks from a history nut!!

  2. Drew says:

    I would hope the team recovering it would indeed drink it on the ship and raise a toast in it and the past crew’s honor. It seems only fitting to toast its service.

  3. Raleigh Muns says:

    I have posted a link to this story on the “US NAVY FFG-7 Class Ship’s Veterans” Facebook group. As a plankowner of the USS Rentz (FFG-46) which was also a Perry class frigate, these kind of stories add to the legends of our humble vessels. The Rentz was named after Chaplain George Snavely Rentz of the USS Houston (CA-30) which was sunk in the Battle of Sunda Strait alongside the HMAS Perth (D29). I love these kind of connections!

  4. Raleigh Muns says:

    Since it wasn’t clear in the article, the HMAS Sydney was a modified Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate and we Yank sailors consider her a close cousin to our own Perrys.

  5. Fog says:

    Meh…..last month we opened a bottle of HAIG dimple from 1950….it was my grandfathers and had sat in my Aunts basement for 67 years. The date was written on the label in my grandfathers handwriting. My grandfather died 9 years before I was born. (Yes, It tasted delicious!!)

  6. Peter Reed says:

    I was commissioning crew on SYDNEY 03 (Hull # FFG35). The bottle and a Silver Dollar have been presented to the RAN Heritage Centre at Garden Island, Sydney. http://www.communitynews.com.au/weekend-courier/news/hmas-sydneys-whiskey-and-silver-dollar-given-to-australian-navy-heritage-museum/

  7. eric burns says:

    that bottle needs to go into a museum

  8. Sam Marquez says:

    During WestPac, on CVA-62, USS Independence, 1965, we would bring on cases of soda back from liberty. Whereas the outside rows were indeed soda the inner rows were replaced with beer. The cases were always inspected coming aboard, but it was a cursory inspection, just looking at the cases. Anyone bringing on paper bags always were scrutinized. Once aboard we stashed the cases in the air conditioning ducting in the forward 0-4 level. Nearly ice cold beer! We were not aware those particular ducts led to the Captains and Admirals Country. We sold the beer during poker games in the forward area Air Wing offices. Actually, we rented the offices to players using part of the funds to pay lookouts during the game operations. All good things come to an end. Eventually, I guess we got greedy and stored too much beer, blocking the cool air. I’m told the Admiral complained and thus the discovery. No one ever said a word.

  9. Marcus Burrows says:

    It was inly 35 years ago – though a kong shot, it might be fun trying to return it to the bloke who put it there…

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