Legendary Heroine Grace Darling 24 November 1815 - October 1842
Grace Darling was born on 24 November 1815 at her grandfather's cottage in Bamburgh in Northumberland. She was the seventh of nine children (four brothers and four sisters) born to William and Thomasin Darling, and when only a few weeks old she was taken to live on Brownsman Island, one of the Farne Islands, in a small cottage attached to the lighthouse.
Her father ran the lighthouse (built in 1795) for Trinity House. The accommodation was basic and the lighthouse was not in the best position to guide shipping to safety, so in 1826 the family moved to the newly constructed lighthouse on Longstone Island.
Longstone Lighthouse had better accommodation, but the island was slightly less hospitable, so William would row back to Brownsman to gather vegetables from their former garden to feed their animals. The family spent most of their time on the ground floor of the lighthouse - a large room, heated by a wood stove. The room was their living room, dining room and kitchen, and had a spiral staircase leading to three bedrooms above and of course the light at the top of the tower.
In the early hours of 7 September 1838, Grace Darling, looking from an upstairs window of the Longstone Lighthouse, spotted the wreck and survivors of the Forfarshire on Big Harcar, a nearby low rocky island. The Forfarshire had foundered on the rocks and broken in half: one of the halves had sunk during the night.
She and her father William decided that the weather was too rough for the lifeboat to put out from Seahouses (then North Sunderland), so they took a rowing boat (21 ft, 4-man Northumberland coble) across to the survivors, taking a long route that kept to the lee side of the islands, a distance of nearly a mile.
Grace kept the boat steady in the water while her father helped four men and the lone surviving woman, Mrs. Dawson, into the boat. Although she survived the sinking, Mrs Dawson had lost her two young children during the night. William and three of the rescued men then rowed the boat back to the lighthouse. Grace then remained at the lighthouse while her father and three of the rescued crew members rowed back and recovered four more survivors.
Meanwhile the lifeboat had set out from Seahouses but arrived
at Big Harcar rock after Grace and her father had completed their rescue operation: all they found were the dead bodies of Mrs Dawson's children and a vicar. It was too dangerous to return to North Sunderland so they rowed to the lighthouse to take shelter. The weather deteriorated so much that everyone was obliged to remain at the lighthouse for three days before returning to shore.
The Forfarshire had been carrying sixty two people. The vessel broke in two almost immediately upon hitting the rocks. Those rescued by Grace and her father were from the bow section of the vessel which had been held by the rocks for some time before sinking. All that remained at daybreak was the portside paddlebox casing. Nine other passengers and crew had managed to float off a lifeboat from the stern section before it too sank, and were picked up in the night by a passing Montrose sloop and brought into South Shields that same night.
As news of her role in the rescue reached the public, her combination of bravery and simple virtue set her out as exemplary, and led to an uneasy role as the nation's heroine. Subscriptions and donations totaling over £700 were raised for her, including £50 from Queen Victoria; more than a dozen portrait painters sailed to her island home to capture her likeness, and hundreds of gifts, letters, and even marriage proposals were delivered to her.
Her unexpected wealth and fame were such that the Duke of Northumberland took on a role as her self-appointed guardian and founder of a trust, established to look after the donations offered to her. His personal gifts to her and her family included a timepiece, and a silver teapot.
In 1842, Grace fell ill while visiting the mainland, and was in convalescence with her cousins, the MacFarlanes, in their house in Narrowgate, Alnwick. The Duchess of Northumberland heard of her situation, and arranged for her to be moved to better accommodation close to Alnwick Castle, and tended to the ailing heroine in person as well as providing Grace with the services of the ducal family physician.
Grace's condition declined, and in the final stages of her illness she was conveyed to the place of her birth, in Bamburgh. Grace Darling died of tuberculosis in October 1842, aged 26.