The Darling of the Isles

Few stories in British history tell a tale of female heroism in the Victorian era as well as the story of Grace Darling and the courage she displayed on one morning in 1838. 

The rescue of the crew and passengers of the SS Forfarshire, by Robert F. Watson

The rescue of the crew and passengers of the SS Forfarshire, by Robert F. Watson

The Farne Islands off the coast of Bamburgh in Northumberland have always been a treacherous place for ships to travel with many vessels meeting their disastrous end on the hazardous cliff, and the events that transpired in the early hours of 7 September 1838 were no exception.

Grace Darling was born into the simple life, a home schooled girl, daughter of a lighthouse keeper, in the lighthouse where their family resided. In the early hours of that day, 22 year old Grace Darling spotted the steamship Forfarshire had shipwrecked on the cliff with only half of the vessel remaining, the Forfarshire was carrying 62 souls at the time.

Grace and her father William didn’t believe they could make the journey to the survivors in a lifeboat in the nightmarish storm, none the less, Grace and her father took their four man rowing boat, a 21 foot Coble, rowing almost a mile to reach the survivors.

Grace Darling by Thomas Brooks

Grace Darling by Thomas Brooks

Once they reached the survivors, Grace used all of her might to keep the large boat steady while her father pulled the survivors into the boat, knowing the Coble might not survive the storm itself if Grace couldn’t hold it. Grace and her father were able to rescue several survivors in their first trip including four men, and one woman who was clinging to the lifeless bodies of her dead children. Once they reached the lighthouse, Grace remained and cared for the woman, while her father and the other survivors rowed back to collect the other four survivors now that there was enough men to control the boat.

The survivors had to remain at the lighthouse for several days as the relentless storm intensified, and then made their may to the mainland. News quickly spread of the tale, and Grace and her father were inundated with rewards and medals for their efforts, with Grace even receiving a £50 reward from Queen Victoria herself, although Grace was never comfortable with her fame.

Grace suffered an early death to tuberculosis at the age of 26, and since then her tale of heroism has been immortalised in literature, poetry, plays and art.