Seahouses RNLI Lifeboat Station, Seafield Road, Seahouses, Northumberland NE68 7SH. Tel: 01665 720370
Seahouses RNLI Lifeboat Station
The Grace Darling Rescue
On September 7th, 1838, an incident took place at the Farne Islands, off the North Northumberland Coast, which was to have profound effect on maritime rescue facilities, or indeed lack of them around the coast of the United Kingdom. The 400 ton paddle steamship "Forfarshire" was on passage from Hull to Dundee when it struck rocks near to the Longstone Lighthouse, in a northerly gale. The vessel broke in two almost immediately, and many passengers were drowned as the aft section quickly sank. Some of the crew and one passenger were picked up in one of the ship's boats, by a passing ship. Thirteen people had survived on the fore part of the stricken vessel, and were able to scramble onto the Harcar Rock. About half a mile away, on the Longstone Lighthouse, were William Darling, his wife Thomasin and their youngest daughter Grace. Their son William had across to Seahouses earlier, to help the herring fleet. At first light on the 8th, Grace spotted the wreck of the "Forfarshire from her bedroom window, and alerted her family. As the light grew stronger, they could just make out the survivors huddled on the rocks. Grace and her father decided at once to attempt a rescue, and put out in their 21ft coble, rowing it through heavy seas towards the casualties. They could not take a direct route, having to avoid other rocks, and with tremendous skill and courage, managed to reach the rocks and rescue some of the survivors, who in turn helped row the coble back to the lighthouse. Grace and her father decided to make a return trip to rescue those remaining, where they were also successfully saved and taken back to the lighthouse. here they remained for 2 days due to the storms, being cared for by the Darling family.
Meanwhile, William Robson, coxswain of the North Sunderland Lifeboat (Seahouses), on being informed of the wreck, decided to launch a local coble instead of the lifeboat, as he believed it would be better suited for getting close amongst the rocks. At this time, he was unaware of the rescue by Grace and William Darling. With 6 local men, James Robson, Michael Robson, Thomas Cuthbertson, William Swan, Robert Knox, and William Darling (the lighthouse keeper's son), they set out into the storm. On reaching the Harcar Rock, they found that all had been rescued, and they then made their way to the Longstone Lighthouse, being impossible to return to Seahouses because of the sea state. However, on reaching the lighthouse, the accommodation was found to be full, and the crew had to take shelter in a derelict building for next two days.
News of the gallant rescue by Grace and William Darling quickly spread throughout the country, and their bravery was duly recognized, the R.N.L.I. awarded they both silver gallantry medals. They also received the Gold Medallion from the Royal Human Society, while Grace additionally received silver medals from the Glasgow Humane Society and the Edinburgh and Leith Humane Society.
Sadly, four years later, this national heroine died of tuberculosis on October 20th, 1842. Her actions focused the nation on the issues of maritime rescue, serving as catalyst for the development of new safer Lifeboats, and development of the Lifeboat Service around the coastline of the United Kingdom. Her memorial stands in the churchyard of St Aidan's Parish Church, Bamburgh, just a mile or so north of Seahouses, opposite the house where she was born.
Close by is the Grace Darling Museum, dedicated to her memory and her heroic actions. The Museum is open daily (excluding Mondays in winter). To verify opening times, call the museum during office hours on 01668 214910. Completely redeveloped, with Heritage Lottery Funding, the Museum caters for individual or Group visits (by arrangement), and includes heritage workshop facilities.
The Grace Darling Coble returns from secure storage to the museum in December 2007.
Some views inside the museum, where pictures, artefacts, interactive displays and a lighthouse model are some of the attractions, and of course, workmen reported seeing a lady in period costume, and feeling a chill in the building.... Could it be Grace checking all is in order in her newly refurbished and extended museum ?