- This article is about the Forfarshire, a steamship which sank off the Farne Islands in 1838. Several other ships have also been named Forfarshire.
The Forfarshire was a paddlesteamer with brigantine rigging, built in Dundee in 1834, and which struck and later foundered on one of the Farne Islands on the 7 September 1838, giving rise to the rescue for which Grace Darling is famed.
Forfarshire was commissioned by the Dundee & Hull Shipping Company, to carry passengers and cargo between Hull and Dundee on the east coast of Great Britain. Costing some £20,000, she weighed 400 tons (363,000 kg), was powered by two 90 horsepower (67 kW) steam engines, and had the capability of being powered by sails.
The Forfarshire set out from Hull, sailing north, on the 5 September 1838, with some sixty people and cargo on board. She had in very recent times had maintenance work undertaken on her boilers. Passing Flamborough Head a failure of pumps supplying water to the boilers reduced her steaming capacity. Her situation deteriorated through the next day as leaks from her boilers flooded the bilges, and at 10pm that night, off St Abb's Head, her engines failed. Despite near gale force North-easterly winds, her captain put her under sail and continued on his way; but the weather worsened to a full gale, with heavy rain and a change in wind direction to due North. At this the ship was turned around to run before the wind and seek shelter behind the Farne Islands.
At 3am on the 7 September, she struck aground with considerable force, on Big Harcar, one of the Outer Farne Islands. A group of eight sailors and one passenger managed to lower and escape in a lifeboat, to be picked up the following morning by a passing schooner. The remaining passengers and crew were left to the mercy of the sea, which swung the Forfarshire around and tore off the stern quarterdeck and cabins, leaving only the bow and fore sections of the ship anchored to the rock.
A few passengers managed to hold on to railings, and make it through the night, later transferring to Big Harcar; including a Mrs. Dawson, who was distraught, holding the bodies of her two dead children. Their predicament was spotted at first light by Grace Darling, daughter of William, the keeper of the Longstone Lighthouse, which was situated about 600 yards (550m) from the wreck site. Together father and daughter launched their 21 foot (6.4m) coble (rowing boat), and rowed some 1,700 yards (1,554m) to Big Harcar through heavy seas, effecting a rescue first of five; after which William and two of the rescued then returned for the remaining four survivors. Some 42 people, including the captain and his wife, perished. Both William and Grace received the RNLI’s Silver Medal in 1838 - the first recipients of this new award. They also received the Gold Medallion from the Royal Humane Society, while Grace additionally received silver medals from the Glasgow Humane Society and the Edinburgh and Leith Humane Society
A first inquest on the 11 September found that the ship was "wrecked due to the imperfections of the boilers and the culpable negligence of Captain Humble" - in part a reference to Humble's decision to press on with the voyage rather than put in to port after the initial failure at Flamborough Head; a second inquest on the 1 October - to which the shipping line had had time to dispatch a representative - watered down the findings to the tempestuousness of the weather.
Some remains of the Forfarshire woodwork can be found at Piper Gut in depths from 7-22m (3.8 - 12 fathoms), but mixed with remains from other wrecks, on a rock and kelp sea floor. A plaque can be found on the side of Minerva Terrace at Hull Marina commemorating the voyage. The marina entrance was once the entrance for the docks from where the Forfarshire sailed. One of the original name-plates of the Forfarshire is now on display in the main bar of the Olde Ship pub in Seahouses.
Behind the altar of Dunkeld Cathedral, a plaque is erected "To the memory of Rev John Robb who, on a voyage for the benefit of his health, perished by the wreck of the Forfarshire Steamship off the Fern Islands". Robb had been the minister of Dunkeld for two years.
- The Illustrated Dictionary of North-East Shipwrecks by Peter Collings, circa 1988. Collings & Brodie, Chester-le-Street. ISBN 0-9511681-1-8 & ISBN 0-9511681-2-6
- Report on the sinking of the Forfarshire in the Annual Register, 1838, from Google Book Search
- Description of the sinking and Grace Darling's part in the rescue, from The Tragedy of the Seas, 1841, from Google Book Search
- Grace Darling, or, The Wreck of the "Forfarshire" a poem by William McGonagall