A virtually unknown stuffed ‘Cromie’ deer has just appeared on the world stage. Very few people will ever have seen one of these almost extinct animals alive.
Due to a combination of redundancy and retirement a family from a long linage on the Scottish Island of Jura are having to leave their long-time home which was tied to their employment. The indigenous family had hoped to build their own house on the island but dramatic increases in costs and lack of builders have made this unlikely. The historical family artefacts are having to be dispersed which includes a very rare taxidermy deer head called a ‘Cromie’.
World famous for its whisky and recently the internationally renowned Ardfin golf course, this incredibly unique Isle of Jura item predates any of these and is part of the islands unknown and forgotten history.
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.
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 appear 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.”
The writer 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.”
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 Scottish wild red deer. During his time on the island in the late 1800s it is said that he shot and killed 11 Cromie’s over a period of 12 years. For that number to be killed they must have been prevalent. The rare ‘Cromie’ type are seldom seen today and are only killed when age or poor health requires it. It is thought by some that they may be extinct soon.
The West Coast Island 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 shooting estates is about five thousand compared to the human population of just over two hundred. The island has other historical associations in that the author of ‘1984’, George Orwell 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 access 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, which has indeed been successful in that aim. Although they possibly never imagined it would be such a marketing achievement.
The latest venture on Jura is the Ardfin golf course which although finished just a few years ago is now rated in the top one hundred 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. Now his investment attracts the worlds golfing elite and at times international celebrities to the remote Scottish island. Although deer are present, there is no record of a ‘Cromie’ having been see on the golf course.
Perhaps the islands distillery or even the golf course owners may wish to bring the historical animal back to its homeland. Due to the extreme rarity of the island item and the fact it was preserved by the famous taxidermist Roland Ward, there may be a lot of interest at the McTear’s, Glasgow auction house and online on Wednesday 22nd February.