Darling, Grace (1815–1842)

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Darling, Grace (1815–1842)

British hero who, with her father, rescued nine survivors of the steamer Forfarshire when it was wrecked in a violent storm in September 1838. Born Grace Horsley Darling at Bamburgh, Northumberland, England, on November 24, 1815; died on October 20, 1842; seventh of nine children (including two sets of twins) of William (a lighthouse keeper) and Thomasin (Horsley) Darling.

On the night of September 6, 1838, during a violent storm, the Forfarshire, one of the first luxury steamships, was bound from Hull to Dundee with 63 people on board when it struck Harcar Rock in the Farne Islands, off the coast of Northumberland. In the first light of morning on September 7, William Darling, the keeper of the Longstone Lighthouse, and his 22-year-old daughter Grace caught sight of the movement of survivors on Harcar Rock. Grace and her father rowed three-quarters of a mile to rescue the nine survivors, four crew members and five passengers, including one woman. Since all nine would not fit into their boat, two trips were necessary, and Grace went out only once. After returning to the lighthouse with the woman and four crew members, she attended to the injured while William Darling and two of the ship's crew members went back for the remaining survivors.

The daring rescue brought immortality to Grace Darling, described by Jessica Mitford as "the first 'media' heroine." "She seems to have been the right girl in the right place at the right time to usher in the Victorian era," Mitford wrote in Grace Had an English Heart. "What could be a more appropriate ornament to the beginning of the eighteen-year-old Queen's reign than 'an English maid;/ Pure as the air around her,/ Of danger ne'er afraid'?" From the time of "the Deed," Darling was besieged by reporters, who spread her story across the country, often taking liberty with the facts. She received medals from the Humane Society, as well as a grant from the treasury, and became the subject of countless biographies, two of which were published with astonishing speed in 1839: Grace Darling, or the Heroine of the Farne Islands, by G.M. Reynolds, and Grace Darling, or The Maid of the Isles, by Jerrold Vernon, a local writer. In addition to paintings, poems, and even a song honoring her valor, a romanticized likeness of Darling graced Staffordshire commemorative pottery as well as a Cadbury chocolate tin. In 1884, a hybrid Grace Darling rose, creamy white shaded with pink, made its way into English gardens. As late as 1987, Royal Doulton issued a Grace Darling statuette.

Although she is only dimly remembered in modern-day Britain, the small village of Bamburgh abounds with memorials to her, among them her birthplace, the house where she died (transformed into a gift shop), a two-room museum, and her monument in the Bamburgh churchyard. Built in 1844 by C. Raymond Smith, a London sculptor, the monument did not hold up well and underwent numerous restorations, one of which was helped along by Ida Lewis , the "Grace Darling of America," who contributed money to the repair effort.

The perpetuation of the Grace Darling legend may have been due in part to her early death from influenza on October 20, 1842, several years short of her 30th birthday. Her funeral, four days later, was attended by mourners from every walk of life, some coming from miles away to pay their respects. Queen Victoria contributed to Darling's memorial, and William Wordsworth composed an 100-line poetic tribute to her, from which 17 lines were chosen for a memorial stone in St. Cuthbert's Chapel on the Inner Farne Island.


Mitford, Jessica. Grace Had an English Heart. NY: E. P. Dutton, 1988.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts