Poacher issues posthumous confession 80 years on

The stag is now used as a hat stand. Picture: HeMedia
The stag is now used as a hat stand. Picture: HeMedia
Share this article
Have your say

It is a Rum old tale of derring do that has been kept secret for nearly eight decades, but now a poacher who staged a raid on one of Scotland’s most notorious estates has made a posthumous confession.

In what reads like a Hebridean Boy’s Own adventure, the story of Robert Atkinson’s adventures on the island of Rum has been published 20 years after his death. The memoir traces his journey to the isle in the summer of 1938, then owned by the secretive and eccentric Sir George Bullough, to shoot a stag as a dare.

Although he and two friends from the University of Cambridge were successful in their mission, Mr Atkinson, a fruit grower from Oxfordshire, seldom spoke of his exploits for fear of prosecution. But after committing his deeds to paper, his son, Ed, has given his blessing to the publication of the manuscript.

At the time, Rum was known as the Forbidden Isle, a refuge where Sir George – the scion to an industrialist’s fortune – would entertain wealthy guests while a host of gamekeepers warded off intruders.

Inspired by John Buchan’s 1925 novel, John Macnab, an account of three respected friends who turn to poaching, Mr Atkinson and his fellow graduates – John Naish and Hugh Le Lacheur – resolved to render fiction into reality.

After hiring a hunting rifle and a motorboat, they set sail and landed on a beach at the opposite side of Kinloch Castle on 15 August. For the next 24 hours they crawled through ditches and hid in bushes before finally alighting on a stag.

With the animal’s head as their trophy, they made good their escape during a storm. Ever since, it has been stored out of sight in Mr Atkinson’s Henley-on-Thames home.

His son explained: “It was all very amateur. None of them had a clue what they were doing, other than knowing to stay upwind of an animal so their scent wouldn’t be picked up.

“The book would have been a confession.

“We loved hearing the story as teenagers and it also explained the scary old head that he kept in the attic.”

READ MORE: Small Isles of Scotland: A short history of Rum, Muck, Canna and Eigg