The Glasgow-based auction house McTear’s have just come into possession of an exceedingly rare curiosity from the Isle of Jura. Jura is world-famous for its whisky and, more recently, the internationally renowned Ardfin golf course. However, the unique Jura item now up for sale predates both of these and is part of the island’s unknown and forgotten history.
The ‘Cromie’ stag
The very rare taxidermy deer head, called a ‘Cromie’, was shot on the island in 1951. The ‘Cromie’ stag head differs from normal deer in that the antlers sweep back along its neck. One of the best descriptions of this anomaly appears in the 1896 book The Deer Forests of Scotland by A Grimble.
“Mention must now be made of an extraordinary curiosity of the Jura Forests, called “the cromie stag,” Gaelic for “crooked.” In Jura only do these stags exist; how they got there or whence they came no one knows, but there they have been from time immemorial, and confident I feel either that they are a distinct race, or that some stag from foreign lands once managed to get to Jura in days gone by and left his mark behind him. Even in Jura these “cromies” are very scarce, living only in certain parts of the island, where perhaps three or four “cromies” may be seen to one hundred others, and the whole forest may not contain a score of them.”
Grimble goes on to state, “though at first sight it may appear ugly as compared with that of the usual monarch of the glen, I am sure all deer fanciers will eventually agree with me in regarding the head as a wild and beautiful one, while the sight of it cannot fail to arouse speculation as to its origin.”
Due to their rarity, no scientific proof has been found as to their origins. Consideration was given to a research study but, due to the lack of access to DNA, it has been considered unfeasible.
These peculiar animals are also mentioned in Henry Evans’s privately published book, Jura Red Deer, which describes his research into deer on the island. Evan’s claim to fame was as one of the first promoters of the management of wild red deer. During his time on the island in the late 1800s, it is said that he shot and killed 11 Cromies over a period of 12 years. The rare ‘Cromie’ type are seldom seen today and are only killed when age or poor health requires it. It is felt by some that they may be extinct soon.
Jura – the history of the island
The Isle of Jura is historically famous for its high numbers of red deer. Today, the approximate number of animals on the island (which wander freely around the seven sporting estates) is about 5,000, compared to the human population of just over 200. The island has other historical associations: George Orwell, author of 1984, during his stay there called it the most “ungetatable” place. Despite this description having been made in the mid-1940s, many islanders today think that not much has changed in almost 100 years.
There is no regular direct ferry link to the mainland, with residents having to travel to the neighbouring island of Islay to get access to a car ferry system. Regardless of the transport difficulties, the dominant industry today is, of course, whisky. The brand Jura Malt Whisky has won many tasting accolades and can be seen in most airport lounges throughout the world. The original distilling enterprise was started by island landowners, in an attempt to retain the population, and has indeed been successful in that aim. Although they possibly never imagined it would be such a marketing achievement.
Golf – Jura’s new outdoor pursuit
The island’s latest venture is the Ardfin golf course which, although finished just a few years ago, is now rated in the top 100 in the world. Designed by the Australian architect Bob Harrison, the challenging course is the brainchild of the financier Greg Coffey, who, since his purchase of the Ardfin Estate on the island, has reputedly spent tens of millions of pounds on building the course and a new hotel.
It could perhaps be suggested that the so-called ‘Wizard of Oz’ has spent more on the infrastructure of Ardfin Estate, and ultimately Jura, than the Scottish Government have spent on the whole of the Western Isles. Now his investment attracts the world’s golfing elite and, at times, international celebrities to the remote island.
The future for the Cromie head
Due to the extreme rarity of the Cromie head and the fact it was preserved by the famous taxidermist Roland Ward, there may be a lot of interest at the Glasgow auction house on 22nd February. It will be interesting to see if Grimble’s enthusiasm for the possible sub-species is held by the present deer fanciers. Perhaps the island’s distillery or even the golf course owners may wish to bring the historical animal back to its homeland.
The curiosity is being sold by a family of long Jura lineage. Due to a combination of redundancy and retirement, the family are having to leave their long-time home which was tied to their employment. They had hoped to build their own house on the island but dramatic increases in costs and lack of builders have made this unlikely. This means the historic family artefacts are having to be dispersed.