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Grace Horsley Darling (24 November 1815 – 20 October 1842) was an English Victorian heroine on the strength of a celebrated maritime rescue in 1838.

Grace Horsley Darling - Portrait.jpg

Grace was born in 1815 at Bamburgh in Northumberland, and spent her youth in two lighthouses (Brownsman and Longstone), of which her father, William was the keeper.

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 ship, SS Forfarshire on Big Harcar, a nearby low rocky island. The Forfarshire had foundered on the rocks, broken in half and half had sunk during the night.

She and her father, William Darling, 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. Her father with three of the rescued men then rowed back to the lighthouse, while Grace and the fourth man comforted Mrs. Dawson. Grace then remained at the lighthouse while William Darling and three of the rescued crew members rowed back and recovered the remaining survivors. Meanwhile, the lifeboat had set out from Seahouses, but arrived at Big Harcar rock after Grace and her father. All they found were the dead bodies of Mrs Dawson's children and the body of a dead 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 63 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. 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 Shields that same night.

Grace Darling died of tuberculosis in 1842, aged 26.


Grace Darling Memorial at Bamborough Church.jpg

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.

Even in her lifetime, Grace’s achievement was celebrated, and she received a large financial reward in addition to the plaudits of the nation. A number of fictionalized 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 the series of Victorian paintings by William Bell Scott at Wallington Hall in Northumberland depicts her rescue.

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.

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.

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.

See also

  • 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.

Further reading

  • Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem "Grace Darling"
  • Richard Armstrong - Grace Darling: Maid and Myth (1965)
  • Hugh Cunningham - Grace Darling – Victorian Heroine Hambledon: Continuum (2007) 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, Her Life and its Lessons Walter Scott (1880)
  • 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

External links

Coordinates: 55°38.63′N 01°36.58′W / 55.64383°N 1.60967°W / 55.64383; -1.60967

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Grace Darling
by Algernon Charles Swinburne
This poem is from the collection Astrophel and Other Poems, Book I of The Collected Poetical Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Vol. VI.

     Take, O star of all our seas, from not an alien hand,
       Homage paid of song bowed down before thy glory's face,
     Thou the living light of all our lovely stormy strand,
       Thou the brave north-country's very glory of glories, Grace.

     Loud and dark about the lighthouse rings and glares the night;
       Glares with foam-lit gloom and darkling fire of storm and spray,
     Rings with roar of winds in chase and rage of waves in flight,
       Howls and hisses as with mouths of snakes and wolves at bay.
     Scarce the cliffs of the islets, scarce the walls of Joyous Gard,
       Flash to sight between the deadlier lightnings of the sea:
     Storm is lord and master of a midnight evil-starred,
       Nor may sight or fear discern what evil stars may be.
     Dark as death and white as snow the sea-swell scowls and shines,
       Heaves and yearns and pants for prey, from ravening lip to lip,
     Strong in rage of rapturous anguish, lines on hurtling lines,
       Ranks on charging ranks, that break and rend the battling ship.
     All the night is mad and murderous: who shall front the night?
       Not the prow that labours, helpless as a storm-blown leaf,
     Where the rocks and waters, darkling depth and beetling height,
       Rage with wave on shattering wave and thundering reef on reef.
     Death is fallen upon the prisoners there of darkness, bound
       Like as thralls with links of iron fast in bonds of doom;
     How shall any way to break the bands of death be found,
       Any hand avail to pluck them from that raging tomb?
     All the night is great with child of death: no stars above
       Show them hope in heaven, no lights from shores ward help on
     Is there help or hope to seaward, is there help in love,
       Hope in pity, where the ravening hounds of storm make mirth?
     Where the light but shows the naked eyeless face of Death
       Nearer, laughing dumb and grim across the loud live storm?
     Not in human heart or hand or speech of human breath,
       Surely, nor in saviours found of mortal face or form.
     Yet below the light, between the reefs, a skiff shot out
       Seems a sea-bird fain to breast and brave the strait fierce pass
     Whence the channelled roar of waters driven in raging rout,
       Pent and pressed and maddened, speaks their monstrous might and
     Thunder heaves and howls about them, lightning leaps and flashes,
       Hard at hand, not high in heaven, but close between the walls
     Heaped and hollowed of the storms of old, whence reels and crashes
       All the rage of all the unbaffled wave that breaks and falls.
     Who shall thwart the madness and the gladness of it, laden
       Full with heavy fate, and joyous as the birds that whirl?
     Nought in heaven or earth, if not one mortal-moulded maiden,
       Nought if not the soul that glorifies a northland girl.
     Not the rocks that break may baffle, not the reefs that thwart
       Stay the ravenous rapture of the waves that crowd and leap;
     Scarce their flashing laughter shows the hunger of their heart,
       Scarce their lion-throated roar the wrath at heart they keep.
     Child and man and woman in the grasp of death clenched fast
       Tremble, clothed with darkness round about, and scarce draw
     Scarce lift eyes up toward the light that saves not, scarce may
       Thought or prayer up, caught and trammelled in the snare of
     Not as sea-mews cling and laugh or sun their plumes and sleep
       Cling and cower the wild night's waifs of shipwreck, blind with
     Where the fierce reef scarce yields foothold that a bird might
       And the clamorous darkness deadens eye and deafens ear.
     Yet beyond their helpless hearing, out of hopeless sight,
       Saviours, armed and girt upon with strength of heart, fare forth,
     Sire and daughter, hand on oar and face against the night,
       Maid and man whose names are beacons ever to the North.
     Nearer now; but all the madness of the storming surf
       Hounds and roars them back; but roars and hounds them back in
     As a pleasure-skiff may graze the lake-embanking turf,
       So the boat that bears them grates the rock where-toward they
     Dawn as fierce and haggard as the face of night scarce guides
       Toward the cries that rent and clove the darkness, crying for
     Hours on hours, across the engorged reluctance of the tides,
       Sire and daughter, high-souled man and mightier-hearted maid.
     Not the bravest land that ever breasted war's grim sea,
       Hurled her foes back harried on the lowlands whence they came,
     Held her own and smote her smiters down, while such durst be,
       Shining northward, shining southward, as the aurorean flame,
     Not our mother, not Northumberland, brought ever forth,
       Though no southern shore may match the sons that kiss her mouth,
     Children worthier all the birthright given of the ardent north
       Where the fire of hearts outburns the suns that fire the south.
     Even such fire was this that lit them, not from lowering skies
       Where the darkling dawn flagged, stricken in the sun's own
     Down the gulf of storm subsiding, till their earnest eyes
       Find the relics of the ravening night that spared but nine.
     Life by life the man redeems them, head by storm-worn head,
       While the girl's hand stays the boat whereof the waves are fain:
     Ah, but woe for one, the mother clasping fast her dead!
       Happier, had the surges slain her with her children slain.
     Back they bear, and bring between them safe the woful nine,
       Where above the ravenous Hawkers fixed at watch for prey
     Storm and calm behold the Longstone's towering signal shine
       Now as when that labouring night brought forth a shuddering day.
     Now as then, though like the hounds of storm against her snarling
       All the clamorous years between us storm down many a fame,
     As our sires beheld before us we behold Grace Darling
       Crowned and throned our queen, and as they hailed we hail her
     Nay, not ours alone, her kinsfolk born, though chiefliest ours,
       East and west and south acclaim her queen of England's maids,
     Star more sweet than all their stars and flower than all their
       Higher in heaven and earth than star that sets or flower that
     How should land or sea that nurtured her forget, or love
       Hold not fast her fame for us while aught is borne in mind?
     Land and sea beneath us, sun and moon and stars above,
       Bear the bright soul witness, seen of all but souls born blind.
     Stars and moon and sun may wax and wane, subside and rise,
       Age on age as flake on flake of showering snows be shed:
     Not till earth be sunless, not till death strike blind the skies,
       May the deathless love that waits on deathless deeds be dead.

     Years on years have withered since beside the hearth once thine
       I, too young to have seen thee, touched thy father's hallowed
     Thee and him shall all men see for ever, stars that shine
       While the sea that spared thee girds and glorifies the land.

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