Grace Darling (24 November 1815 – 20 October 1842) was an English lighthouse keeper's daughter, famed for participating in the rescue of survivors from the shipwrecked Forfarshire in 1838.
In the early hours of 7 September 1838, Grace, looking from an upstairs window of the Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands, 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 determined that the weather was too rough for the lifeboat to put out from Seahouses (then North Sunderland), so they took a rowing boat (a 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 coble 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 William 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 of a vicar. It was too dangerous to return to North Sunderland so they rowed to the lighthouse to take shelter. Grace's brother, William Brooks Darling, was one of the seven fishermen in the lifeboat. The weather deteriorated to the extent that everyone was obliged to remain at the lighthouse for three days before returning to shore.
The Forfarshire had been carrying 62 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.
Grace Darling died of tuberculosis in 1842, aged 26.
Grace is buried with her father and mother in a modest grave in St. Aidan’s churchyard, Bamburgh, where a nearby elaborate cenotaph commemorates her life. A plain stone monument to her was erected in St. Cuthbert’s Chapel on Great Farne Island in 1848.
Grace’s achievement was celebrated in her lifetime: she received a large financial reward in addition to the plaudits of the nation. A number of fictionalised depictions propagated the Grace Darling legend, such as Grace Darling, or the Maid of the Isles by Jerrold Vernon (1839), which gave birth to the legend of “the girl with windswept hair”. Her deed was committed to verse by William Wordsworth in his poem Grace Darling (1843). A lifeboat with her name was presented to Holy Island. One of a series of Victorian paintings by William Bell Scott at Wallington Hall in Northumberland depicts her rescue. The McManus Galleries in Dundee includes three paintings by Thomas Musgrave Joy which celebrate Grace Darling's deeds with the Forfarshire.
At Bamburgh, there is a museum dedicated to her achievements and the seafaring life of the region. It re-opened in December 2007 following renovation. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution Mersey class lifeboat at Seahouses bears the name Grace Darling.
Singer/songwriter Dave Cousins of Strawbs wrote Grace Darling (on Ghosts) in tribute and as a love song. North East musical playwright Dennis A Westgate wrote a musical based on the life of Grace Darling, exploring her life from childhood through to her death in 1842. The premiere was performed by a community theatre company based in York, The York Stars, July 2010 to help promote Grace Darling and the work of the RNLI.
The children's singing group The Limeliters sang a different Grace Darling (featuring the refrain "Help, help, came a desperate yelp!") in their 1962 album, recorded live in concert, Through Children's Eyes.
It was suggested by Richard Armstrong in his 1965 biography Grace Darling: Maid and Myth that she may have suffered from a cleft lip. He is the only biographer to put forward this theory, which has been strongly disputed by other experts.
- Grace Bussell, a 16-year-old Australian girl who rescued 50 people from the SS Georgette when it foundered off the West Australian coast in 1876. She is regarded as Australia’s national heroine. At the time of the rescue, Bussell was referred to as the "Grace Darling of the West" by journalists.
- Ann Harvey, a Newfoundland 17-year-old who in 1828, with her father, brother and dog, rescued 163 shipwrecked people.
- Roberta Boyd, a New Brunswick girl who was hailed as the "Grace Darling of the St. Croix” after a rescue in 1882.
- Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem "Grace Darling"
- Richard Armstrong: Grace Darling: Maid and Myth (1965)
- Hugh Cunningham: Grace Darling – Victorian Heroine Hambledon: Continuum (2008) ISBN 978-1-85285-548-2
- Thomasin Darling: Grace Darling, her True Story: from Unpublished Papers in Possession of her Family (1880)
- Thomasin Darling: The Journal of William Darling, Grace Darling's Father (1887)
- Eva Hope: Grace Darling – Heroine of the Farne Islands Walter Scott Publishing (1875)
- Jessica Mitford: Grace Had an English Heart. The Story of Grace Darling, Heroine and Victorian Superstar (1998) ISBN 0-525-24672-X
- Constance Smedley: Grace Darling and Her Times Hurst and Blackett (1932)
- H. C. G. Matthew, "Darling, Grace Horsley (1815–1842)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- William Patten. "The Junior Classics – Volume 7, Stories of Courage and Heroism". Retrieved 22 November 2010.
- Suzanne Fagence Cooper, ‘Joy, Thomas Musgrave (1812–1866)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 5 Oct 2013
- The Limeliters - Through Children's Eyes - Grace Darling on YouTube
- Grace Darling Museum from the RNLI
- Grace Darling website
- Grace Darling page on Britain Unlimited
- Description of the sinking of the Forfarshire and Grace Darling’s part in the rescue, from The Tragedy of the Seas, 1841, from Google Book Search
- “Grace Darling: Victorian heroine” BBC
- Grace Darling genealogy
- Grace Darling by William Wordsworth
- Memorial Page for Grace Darling on FindaGrave