Today, on International Women’s Day, we look at one of the most inspirational women in history. While the typical top lists will tend to feature the likes of Mother Theresa, Cleopatra, Anne Frank, Florence Nightingale and Marie Curie, for those of us who grew up in the North East of a certain age, the first heroine we learned about, normally as we were sat in a school assembly hall, was Grace Darling.
Born 24 November 1815 in the North Eastern coastal village of Bamburgh, Grace Darling was born the seventh of nine children, and grew up on the Farne Islands, where her father, William Darling, ran the local Longstone lighthouse.
In the middle of the night on September 1838, when she was just 23 years old, Darling spotted from the lighthouse the wreck of the Forfarshire on a nearby island. The ship had broken in half and survivors were trapped on the rocks and in the sea.
The weather was too severe for a full size lifeboat to set out from nearby Seahouses so Grace and her father took a small rowing boat out, Grace holding the small boat steady in ferocious conditions as her father helped four men and a woman into the vessel, and the two of them taking the rescued party back to safety. Grace stayed with them on land while her father went back out and rescued another four survivors.
By the time the full size lifeboat arrived on the scene all those that could be rescued had been.
Grace became a public figure held up for her bravery, and was awarded an RNLI Silver Medal for Gallantry, and a Gold Medal from the Royal Humane Society, and even £50 from Queen Victoria. The sudden fame was difficult for Grace, a modest young woman, and the outpouring of gifts, money, and even marriage proposals, were not easy for her.
Only four years after the rescue, while visiting the mainland, Grace fell ill, and aged only 26 died from consumption on 20 October. 1842 from consumption.
She was buried in Bamburgh churchyard.
100 years after the rescue the RNLI opened the Grace Darling museum in Bamburgh.