A POACHER who bagged a stag in a daring raid on a remote estate dubbed “the forbidden isle” has made a posthumous confession to his crime.
In August 1938 Robert Atkinson and two friends from Cambridge University secretly landed on the Isle of Rum in the Inner Hebrides as part of an elaborate dare.
The island – described as a “Bond villain’s fortress” – was off-limits to the public, jealously guarded by a rich English industrialist who prized his stock of deer.
But in an act youthful defiance the trio spent almost a day on the island – crawling through ditches and hiding in bushes to dodge gamekeepers – before shooting a stag.
They then returned triumphantly to the mainland with its head as a trophy from their raid on the island.
Mr Atkinson – a fruit-grower in Oxfordshire for most of his life – wrote a set of detailed and colourful notes of his youthful misadventure, but kept them under wraps for fear of being prosecuted.
But now – on the 20th anniversary of his death – the tale of his bold feat has been told in a book titled A Stag From Rum: An Essay in Poaching, published with the blessing of his son Ed.
The mounted stag’s head has hung in his hallway for years – but now his father’s secret history has revealed the story of derring-do behind it to the public.
Robert Atkinson studied Botany at Cambridge – where he met his two future partners-in-crime, John Naish and Hugh Le Lacheur.
After graduating he found employment as a photographer at an art college in Scotland – and would regularly venture out to take snaps of rural locations.
It was on one of these jaunts that he heard about Rum – then known as “the forbidden isle” after residents had been forced out by an English industrialist, who kept it as his private hunting estate.
On hearing about the island’s reputation the trio decided to poach a coveted stag.
They hired a hunting rifle and a small boat, and on August 15 landed on a beach on the west side of Rum – far away from the huge red-brick hunting lodge where the industrialist lived.
After nearly a day of stalking deer and dodging gamekeepers they spotted a stag. Mr Atkinson took the first shot – wounding the deer – before Mr Lacheur finished it off.
After removing the head they buried the carcass in a ravine to conceal their crime, before battling their way through a vicious storm to the mainland – where they had the head mounted.
The shield is labeled with a silver plate, which reads “Kilmory, 1938” – referring to the abandoned island village where the three men shot the deer.
Ed Atkinson – a civil engineer from Henley – said: “The island had a reputation for being secretive and hard to reach, like some James Bond villain’s fortress.
“I imagine they were talking about it in the pub and it got to the point where no one had the courage to admit it was a foolish idea, so it took on a momentum of its own.
“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.
“They took the head to a taxidermist in Glasgow, who found it very funny. He knew they’d been up to no good but he didn’t want to know.
Mr Atkinson’s story was originally recorded in an 80-page manuscript he wrote whilst serving in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) in WWII, which lay unread until his death in 1995.
“My father father could never have published the story at the time because poaching was a very serious crime.
“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.”