I love lighthouses and reading about their history, as well as the many stories connected with them. One of the most well-known lighthouses in the UK is Longstone Lighthouse, off the coast of beautiful Northumberland. It looks over the treacherous Harcar rocks, the scene of many shipwrecks over the years.
A famous rescue involving Grace Darling, the daughter of the lighthouse keeper, William Darling took place on September 7th, 1838. Grace, with her father, bravely fought high seas and wind to rescue survivors from the steamship, SS Forfarshire, that had hit the Harcar rocks and broken in half during a violent storm. It was too rough to take out the lifeboat from nearby Seahouses, so William and Grace took a 21 ft Northumberland heavy, coble rowing boat, designed to be rowed by three strong men.
Grace and William reached the seven survivors and found that a woman named Mrs. Dawson was holding her two dead children in her arms. I’ve often thought how awful it must have been for this young 22 year–old girl to have to persuade that distraught mother to leave her children on the rock while she and the rest of the survivors were taken aboard the boat.
Grace kept the boat steady in the water while her father helped four men and Mrs. Dawson into the boat. William and three of the rescued men then rowed the boat back to the lighthouse, where they had to stay for a further three days because the weather was so atrocious.
News soon spread of the bravery of Grace Darling and donations of over £700 were raised, including £50 from Queen Victoria herself. Many artists painted her pictures because she was now a famous heroine and Grace was awarded an RNLI Silver Medal for Gallantry. The Darlings became the most famous of all lighthouse families.
Sadly, Grace did not live long enough to benefit from her fame and wealth because she fell ill with tuberculosis and died in Bamburgh in 1842 at the age of 26. She is buried in the churchyard of St. Aidan’s Church.
If you ever visit Seahouses in the North East of England, visit the Grace Darling Museum. The actual coble boat used by Grace and her father can be seen here. Incidentally, the lifeboat at Seahouses in the North East of England is called GRACE DARLING in memory of this famous Victorian heroine.