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Great Britons: 250 Lives

 

Grace Darling by Britain Unlimited
Daughter of a lighthouse keeper in the Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast. She became famous for helping her father rescue survivors from the wreck of a ship, the "Forfarshire" and became a national lifeboat heroine

 

Grace Darling logo

When and Where was she Born?

24th November 1815, Bamburgh, Northumberland in her Grandfather's cottage.

Grace Darling Birthplace Birthplace Plaque
Birthplace of Grace Horsley Darling in Bamburgh
(© Anthony Blagg)

Family Background:

Grace Darling's grandfather Job Horsley was a gardener to the Crew Trustees. Grace was the fourth daughter out of nine children of William Darling Principal Keeper of the Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Isles and his wife Thomasin.

St Aidan's Church, Bamburgh
St Aidan's Church, Bamburgh
(© Anthony Blagg)

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Education:

Although her brothers went to the free school at Bamburgh Castle run by the Crew Trust, Grace did not. There are some accounts that she went to Bessie Crawford's boarder school at Spittal, near Berwick-upon-Tweed for a time but this was not substantiated by Grace, who said she received her education, especially in Geography, from her father.

Chronology/Biography of Grace Darling

1815: (December): Lived at the Brownsman Lighthouse in the Farne Islands with her family where they lived a self-sufficient lifestyle keeping their own livestock.

1824: Trinity House take over as sole lighthouse authority.

1826: (15th February) Moved to the newly built Longstone Lighthouse when Grace was ten but still had to tend their livestock and gardens on Brownsman which was difficult in bad weather. This light was further out to sea to protect shipping from the hazardous series of rocks and small islands.

1834: First launching of the 150 ton steamship "Forfarshire" at Dundee.

1838: (7th September) At 4 a.m. the steamship "Forfarshire", on route from Hull to Dundee with a cargo of cloths and hardware, struck the rocks on Big Harcar (Then known as Harker's rock) and broke in two. The boilers had earlier leaked and the engines finally gave up leaving the vessel to drift southwards towards the shore in a howling gale.
At quarter to 5 in the morning Grace spotted the stricken ship from her window. It was not until 7 that she and her father spotted survivors on the reef. Her father (52) and herself (22) decided to set out in the family cobble boat to help as they feared that the lifeboats from nearby Bamburgh or North Sunderland would not be able to be launched in such bad weather. They set off to approach the wreck from the south in the lee of the storm. Once there they found nine people alive including a Mrs. Dawson holding the bodies of her two dead children. The cobble could not accommodate them all and five people were taken off. Once they were landed at the lighthouse William Darling and two of the rescued crewmen from the "Forfarshire" set out again for a second trip to take the remaining people off. They arrived back at the lighthouse by 9 a.m. Miraculously, later that day a lifeboat from the "Forfarshire" was sighted by a Sloop which took off another nine survivors and landed them at Tynemouth.
(11th September). The Tuesday following the wreck was the date of the first inquest which took place at Bamburgh under the initiative of Robert Smeddle, Secretary of the Crew Trustees. It was convened at the House of Mr. Hugh Ross, now the Victoria Hotel and as the local coroner was away Smeddle pressed the services of the Newcastle Coroner. The jury, including some of the survivors, was hostile and there was no surprise at the result. "Wrecked due to the imperfections of the boilers and the culpable negligence of Captain Humble". Humble and his wife had both perished in the wreck.
(1st October) When the body of William Doughty, a fireman on the "Forfarshire", was washed up another inquest was held at Hugh Ross's house. This time Mr. Just the manager of the shipping line was invited. Some of the statements of the crew about the boilers being faulty and the passengers insistence that the Captain should put back to port were contradicted and this time it was decided that the ship had come to grief purely because of the tempestuousness of the weather. Grace was to be visited by all sorts of interested people immediately after the story broke in the "Newcastle Journal" and she was besieged by people wanting locks of her hair. Many poets, including William Wordsworth himself praised her heroism in verse. There were also requests for her to appear at the Adelphi Theatre in London and at Batty's Equestrian Circus in Edinburgh, complete with offers of large sums of money. Grace being extremely modest refused all of these. Many public subscriptions were also raised in her honour, but although they raised large sums and touched the hearts of all in the land including Queen Victoria she never touched a penny. Awards were showered on her including Silver Medals from the Royal National Institute for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (Later to become the Royal National Lifeboat Institution) and the Gold Medallion from the Royal Humane Society.

1841: Grace had continued to live with her parents at Longstone Lighthouse but by now her health had become a problem. At the end of the year she moved to stay with a family friend, George Shield, in Wooler where it was thought the air would be beneficial. As there was no improvement she moved to Alnwick where she was attended by the Duchess of Northumberland's own physician. She then moved back to Bamburgh to stay at the house of her sister Thomasin who cared for her lovingly right up until her death.

Marriage:

Never married.

Old effigy photograph
Old effigy of Grace now inside St Aidan's Church,
Bamburgh due to weather damage of original structure
(© Anthony Blagg)

When and Where Did she Die?

20th October 1842, 14 Front Street, Bamburgh, Northumberland of tuberculosis.

House where Grace Darling Died plaque
The house where Grace Darling died is next to "The Pantry" with a plaque over the door
(© Anthony Blagg)

Age at Death:

27.

Site of Grave:

St. Aidanís Churchyard, Bamburgh, Northumberland, England. Grace is buried in the family grave.

Darling family grave Close up of Darling family grave
Family grave containing Grace along with her mother, father and Sister
(© Anthony Blagg)

Nearby, further from the road, there is a large ornamental monument to her with pillars and recumbent sculpture as her lasting memorial.


Monument to Grace Darling in St Aidan's Churchyard
(© Anthony Blagg)

Video:

Places of Interest:

NORTHUMBERLAND:

Grace Darling Museum, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, 1 Radcliffe Road, Bamburgh.
(Contains the actual cobble boat from the rescue, Grace's dress and other clothing as well as many other artifacts from both the Darling family and the wrecked "Forfarshire".

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Grace Darling by Britain Unlimited
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