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Grace Darling died of a common killer, consumption

Posted in Boats, Bravery, Disasters, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Sea, Ships on Thursday, 27 June 2013

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This edited article about Grace Darling originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 306 published on 25 November 1967.

Grace Darling, picture, image, illustration

Grace Darling and her father rowing the coble towards survivors on the rock by John Keay

With horror on their faces, the lighthouse-keeper and his daughter gazed through the storm-driven clouds of spume. Across the raging water they could vaguely discern a number of figures clinging perilously to a rock.

“Poor souls,” murmured the man. “There is no chance of us reaching them in such a sea. Even if we could get the coble* to them, we could never row it back against such waves.”

“But we must try, father,” cried the delicate-looking girl beside him. “If we could get to the rock, the sailors could help us to row back.”

And before her father could reply, Grace Darling was running down the steps of the Longstone lighthouse to the boat. Soon the lighthouse-keeper was beside her, and together they pushed the small craft into the terrifying waves.

The date was 7th September, 1838. The steamship Forfarshire, bound from Hull to Dundee with 63 people aboard, had struck the dangerous Hawker Rocks in a gale near the Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast. The ship foundered, but nine people managed to find handholds on a rock.

It was towards them that the lighthouse-keeper and his 23-year-old daughter now rowed, with all the skill and strength they could muster. When they neared the survivors, it was a miracle that the boat was not smashed to matchwood against the rock.

Four men and a woman managed to clamber aboard the coble, and the return journey was begun. As Grace had said, the men seized oars and helped to row the boat through the roaring water to where the tower of the lighthouse loomed like a tall ghost through the spray.

When Grace had helped the woman and two of the men ashore, her father and the other two survivors set out again to the rock. Again their luck held, and they were able to return with the remaining four men.

When the news reached the outside world, Grace Darling became a national heroine. The Humane Society immediately presented her with a gold medal, and many people clamoured to meet her. Yet this sudden adulation did not affect her simple way of life and she remained as modest and quiet as she had always been.

Born at Bamborough, Northumberland, on the 15th November, 1815, Grace began to suffer with consumption as she grew up. Though her health did not hinder her famous act of heroism, the disease did bring about her early death, on 20th October, 1842.

* A flat, square-sterned fishing boat with oars.

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