Grace Darling

grace darling

Grace Darling was the daughter of William Darling, a lighthouse keeper who was in the employ of Trinity House.  Grace grew up with her family on the Northumberland coast and lived first in Brownsman Lighthouse.  In 1826 the family moved to the newly build Longstone Lighthouse, and it was here she become one of Victorian Englands greatest heroines.

Grace Darling was twenty-one when she spotted the foundering of the Forfarshire on the rocky outcrop called Harcar from her bedroom window on Longstone Lighthouse. It was 7th September 1838, and she and her father William believed there could be no survivors amid such a horrendous storm, yet as they continued to watch, they were to realise that some had indeed survived and were on the rocks that had done for the ship. Then began an incredible couple of hours of sheer bravery and disregard for personal safety that is still spoken about today.

Fearing that the lifeboats from Bamburgh and North Sunderland would not be able to launch, Grace and her father decided to try and rescue the survivors in their twenty-foot coble boat, much to the anguish of Grace’s mother Thomasin. They took a longer southerly route to the wreck to try and make use of what shelter they could, meaning a mile row in atrocious seas, to find more survivors then the three they had first reckoned upon. Over two hours and two trips, nine survivors were taken off Harcar rock back to Longstone Lighthouse, two of the survivors helping William on the second trip. The difficulty of transferring weak survivors into the coble that Grace Darling was trying to keep steady can only be imagined. One survivor, Mrs Dawson, had lost her two young children and had to leave their bodies on the rock. A lifeboat from Sunderland, which contained Grace’s youngest brother, eventually made the site after an incredibly difficult two and a half hour journey, removing the three bodies they found there, before taking shelter at Longstone, where they then had to remain for a couple of days due to the conditions.

It was an incredible tale that soon attracted the attention of the wider world, including the press, attention that Grace was not too keen on. To Grace, she had just been doing her duty. The deed was also known to royalty and Queen Victoria even sent £50 to Grace Darling as a token to acknowledge her bravery. It is this bravery of everyday people who risk their own safety to help others at sea that can be seen in the ethos of the RNLI today.

Sadly, Grace’s life was cut short by TB, and she died in October 1842, to be buried at Bamburgh next to her family.

grace darling

Image of Longstone Lighthouse from the Grace Darling Website

Image of Grace Darling by Thomas Brooks

Related Articles: Trinity House, Eddystone Lighthouse

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