… but, then again, nobody is perfect
Grace Horsley Darling (24 November 1815 – 20 October 1842)
Grace Darling was born in the tiny village of Bamburgh, Northumberland (north of Newcastle and actually nearer to Berwick), the seventh of nine children – well, there was no television and there wasn’t a lot else to do on a lighthouse in those days. Her grandfather, Robert Darling, was also a keeper, who had been appointed to the Brownsman Island light in 1795 when his son, William (later Grace’s old man) was nine and, being the only boy amongst six older sisters, the lad was naturally expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. Which he did. By the time he was nineteen, he must’ve decided that having half a dozen older women about the place wasn’t quite enough because, on 1 July 1805, he married Thomasin Horsley, who was then thirty one. Thomasin was one of twins – she would produce two sets of her own – but, rather creepily, her own twin sister died at birth: she would have been called Grace.
Away they went. For as long as they could, they stuck to the shelter of the leeside, going the long way round, making it nearly a mile in distance – how all those trips across for potatoes and carrots were paying off now, with Grace doing her share of the hefty rowing, until, eventually and at long last, they had made it across to the stricken vessel. There they saw nine, perhaps ten, survivors, more than they had expected. More than one trip would be needed. Now came the ticklish part: Grace would need to keep the coble as steady as she could – on a surging swelling tempestuous sea – whilst her old man leapt ashore and began to organise affairs. No time for any sentimental rot about women and children first in this case (there was but one woman, a Mrs Dawson, clutching her two children, both of whom were dead) as William knew he would need to take some burly seafaring sorts along, to help with the rowing, both back to Longstone and on the return trip for the rest. Four men and Mrs Dawson were selected for the first trip but the bodies of her children would have to be left behind. Grace then remained at the light with her mother, tending to the survivors, whilst the (totally overlooked by History) heroic William took three of the men back to Harcar to pluck the remainder to safety. By nine, it was all over. At which point, the Seahouses lifeboat, with William Brooks aboard, turned up at Harcar, only to find there was nothing left to rescue but the bodies of the children and an old dead vicar. Then they found that it was too dangerous to head for home and had to make for Longstone too, where the weather deteriorated again and they all found themselves stuck for the next three days. Nine other survivors, who had got away in a lifeboat, were also picked up elsewhere that night.
After that there were the Women of Hull in 1841 or, to be more precise, a group of ladies representing the Port of Hull Society, who wanted Grace to turn up so they could raise cash for shipwrecked mariners (the Forfarshire had sailed from Hull, remember, a rather tenuous link they hoped to profit out of) but she turned ‘em down flat. So they wrote again. And again. Six times in all, the last hinting broadly that the Queen was coming so the least Grace could do was to show up too. She referred them to the Duke of Northumberland, just to get shot of them. But, once again, she was left feeling guilty and wretched. In the end, even the church wanted a slice of the Darling action, seeing as how she’d always insisted that it was God who had helped her to find the strength and courage to do what she did, so wasn’t it payback time now, young lady? She feared they would try to raise her into a religious icon but, like all the rest, it was secular self-profit that was their sole motivation. Though the thought did nothing to alleviate her suffering from this relentless publicity and, let’s never forget, she was the first celebrity of this kind, certainly the first woman. There was nobody to tell her how to cope.
She knew the end was not far. She asked for her family; her mother made a highly rare excursion away from Longstone to be there. From her sickbed she distributed gifts and mementoes to them, never once being heard to complain. On the evening of Thursday 20 October 1842, Grace asked to be raised from her pillow. There she died in her father’s arms at 8.15pm. She was just twenty six. A young woman, hounded to death by our insatiable lust for celebrity. Maybe, had she known, she would have thought twice before getting into the coble that night. But we doubt it. She was, after all, a True Giant.
Grace Darling Chocolates: By Benjobanjo23 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Grace Darling: By Thomas Musgrave Joy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Brownsman Island: Andy F [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Longstone Rock: Mick Knapton at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons
Robert Burns: Alexander Nasmyth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Kelp: By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
William Darling: By Thomas Musgrave Joy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
SS Forfarshire 1835: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Grace Darling Portrait with Signature: By Eva Hope - No image credit [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Duke of Wellington: Thomas Lawrence [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Rescue at the Forfarshire: By Thomas Musgrave Joy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Batty’s Grand National 1851: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Duchess of Northumberland, 1839: By Thomas Overton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Grace Darling Monument: By Nicholas Jackson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons