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

Grace was born in 1815 at Bamburghmarker in Northumberlandmarker, and spent her youth in two lighthouses (Brownsman and Longstonemarker), 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 Lighthousemarker on the Farne Islandsmarker, 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 Seahousesmarker (then North Sunderlandmarker), 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 is buried with her father and mother in a modest grave in St. Aidan’s churchyard, Bamburghmarker, where a nearby elaborate cenotaphmarker commemorates her life. A plain stone monument to her was erected in St. Cuthbert’s Chapel on Great Farne Islandmarker 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 Islandmarker. One of the series of Victorian paintings by William Bell Scott at Wallington Hallmarker 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 Seahousesmarker 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 Brunswickmarker 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

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