Fun fact: Her middle name is Horsley
Fun fact: Her middle name is Horsley

That is Grace Darling. She was born in 1815 to a Northumberland lighthouse keeper. For my American readers, Northumberland is the most northern county in the United Kingdom- it’s like Maine…if Maine was 35 times smaller and British.

Anyway, she lived with her eight siblings on Brownsman Island, one of the Farne Islands that lie off the coast of Northumberland. In 1826, the family moved to Longstone Island as the lighthouse on this island was better suited to accommodating a large family.

“Ben!” I hear you cry at your computer, because I have the power to hear that, “why are you telling me about the daughter of a lighthouse operator?” Well, dear viewer, Grace Darling comes into her own in 1838, when she was 23.

The Forfarshire was a paddle steamer built in 1834. It carried passengers and cargo between Hull and Dundee and cost £20,000 (£1,550,196 in today’s money). However, at 3am on September 7th 1838, the Forfarshire struck Big Harcar, a low rocky island near Longstone. The ship split in two and while a few escaped in a lifeboat, a majority of the passengers and crew were stranded in the wrecked or upon Big Harcar itself. At dawn, Grace spotted the disaster from an upstairs window of the lighthouse. Due to rough weather, Grace and her father headed out on a 21ft Northumberland coble, which is apparently a type of boat, and travelled a mile to avoid the rougher waters. Grace kept the boat steady as her father helped four men and the sole female survivor into the boat before rowing back to the lighthouse.

News got out about Grace’s role in the rescue and she was shoved into public spotlight- £700, including £50 from Queen Victoria, was raised in donations for her; the Duke of Northumberland essentially declared himself her guardian and founded a trust in her name. Meanwhile, her fame was spread with detailed accounts of her actions even being written in Japan. However, this made her vulnerable as people tried to get her to endorse their events or products.

Grace died in 1842 after a short battle with tuberculosis. Her funeral was held in Banburgh, yards from the humble cottage she was born in. Darling was buried with her mother and father but her legacy lived. Wordsworth wrote a poem about her entitled Grace Darling the year after her death.

Her name also became synonymous with daring feats of maritime rescue, especially by young women. Grace Bussell, at the age of 16, aided in the rescue of the SS Georgette off the coast of Australia- Bussell rode a horse into the water, using it to guide lifeboats and survivors to shore. Bussell would later be deemed the ‘Grace Darling of the West’. Similarly, Roberta Boyd saved two men whose sailing boat had capsized in the St. Croix River in Canada and was later dubbed as the ‘Grace Darling of St. Croix’.

So, that is the story of Grace Darling. Thank you for reading and watch out for more blog posts!


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