On this day in history : 7th September 1838 – Grace Darling, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter, assists her father in a daring rescue mission off the coast of Northumberland – which makes her a heroine….

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Grace Darling – Portrait by Thomas Musgrave Joy – Public domain

During the evening of the 7th of September a terrible storm raged and 22-year-old Grace was watching it from an upper window of the Longstone Lighthouse…. Suddenly she spotted the wreck of the Forfarshire, a paddle steamer travelling from Hull to Dundee, which had struck rocks and had completely split into two….

Grace was one of nine children but on this particular fateful night all of her siblings were away and only she and her parents were home…. Deciding it would be too dangerous for the lifeboat from the nearby village of Seahouses to attempt the rescue Grace and her father headed out in their own small boat to help the survivors…. With the weather so rough they were forced to keep to the more sheltered side of the islands, meaning they had a further distance of nearly a mile to row….

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Grace Darling rowing out to sea in a furious storm. Colour wood engraving by E.Evans after C.J.Staniland. Credit : The Wellcome Collection CC BY

The Forfarshire had been carrying around 40 passengers and with the crew there was a total of 63 on board…. As the ship split in two the stern half sank, drowning all but 12 and a further few who managed to make it into a lifeboat…. The front end of the vessel remained stuck on the rocks; 5 crew members and 7 passengers clung to the wreckage….but managed to climb on to the slippery rocks as the tide went down…. Three of the passengers, the Reverend John Robbery and two children, died of exposure….their mother, Sarah Dawson, was clinging to her dead children when Grace and her father arrived….

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Grace Darling at the Forfarshire – by Thomas Musgrave Joy – Public domain

Grace held the small boat steady as her father helped Sarah Dawson and four men on board – they then rowed back to the lighthouse…. Grace’s father and three other men then returned to the wreck to rescue the four remaining survivors…. Those who had managed to make it to the lifeboat were picked up by a passing ship the following morning….

Grace was honoured with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s Silver Medal for Gallantry and the Gold Medal of the Royal Humane Society….and she also received a £50 reward from Queen Victoria….

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