The model of the 'Southern Joker'

A row has broken out after the new Museum nan Eilean refused to display a model of a whale–catching ship, estimated to be worth around £40,000.

Retired whaler Jock Murray, of Gress, was contacted by the widow of the late Sir Neil Jephcott, who owns the impressive model of the ‘Southern Joker’ whaling vessel, hand-crafted by world-renowned modeller Malcolm Darch.

Lady Mary Jephcott had suggested that the new Museum nan Eilean would be the perfect place to display the model, given the large number of islanders who had been employed in the whaling industry.

She was willing to donate the model free of charge.

However, Jock Murray says he was ‘shocked and disgusted’ to be told by staff at the museum that the model would not be put on display there, as there was ‘no local connection.’

“It is very embarrassing,” Mr Murray told www.welovestornoway.com.

“No thought has been given to the thousands of whalers from our island – grandfathers, fathers, brothers, uncles, who have relatives still alive.

“There are still some whalers like me who would have loved to see a whale catcher in the museum.

“When will such an opportunity arise again? There may well have been a Lewisman on the ‘Southern Joker’, who is to know?”

Sharing his frustration was local model ship builder John Campbell, of Portvoller, whose stunning model of the ‘Southern Actor’ whale catcher is on display at the Stornoway CalMac ferry terminal.

He says he donated three model ships to Museum nan Eilean – but none were ever displayed.

“I was told they were being stored in quarantine,” said Mr Campbell.

“I couldn’t believe it. I just asked them to give them back to me. It was insulting.”

A spokesman for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, who run Museum nan Eilean, told www.welovestornoway.com that the Comhairle’s policy for museum collections was that there should be some kind of local connection – i.e that someone local served on the whaler, the model was made or owned locally, or ‘some other Western Isles connection’.

“We tried to ascertain that from Mr Murray but he was unable to provide any such confirmation,” said the spokesman.

“We therefore declined the offer, at this stage, to accept the donation of the ‘Southern Joker’ but if anyone knows of any local connection the museum would be delighted to hear about it.

“We are keen to accept a model of a whaler, with local connections, into the museum collection.”

He added: “As regards the other three model ships, all artefacts coming in to the museum have to go through a period of ‘quarantine’ until the Conservation Officer is satisfied that there is nothing that could damage or contaminate other artefacts or indeed the intended exhibit itself.

“This is standard procedure.

“The museum would have been happy to incorporate the model ships in a future display once this check and any necessary conservation work was complete.”

Jock Murray