I challenge you not to reach for your hankies!
Next year – 2015 – will mark the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of arguably the first of all the media celebrities – the Northumbrian Grace Darling.
On the morning of Friday, 7th September 1838, however, all that was to change forever.
By early evening on Thursday, 6th September they passed the Farne Islands but by now the condition of the boilers meant that the crew were forced to raise sail to assist passage. As the ship passed Berwick-upon-Tweed the weather quickly deteriorated and the wind rose into a Northerly gale. The extra pressure exerted on the boilers caused them to fail completely and the engines were stopped. Under pressure of wind and current, the Forfarshire began to drift south.
He had made a catastrophic mistake. The light he had seen had not been that on Inner Farne but on the Longstone, much further out, and in keeping it to port, he was in fact steering straight for the rocks.
The Forfarshire lurched back and struck the rock again and the vessel split in two.
The front portion became stuck fast but the after-part, together with the cargo and all below deck was lost to the sea.
That night, Grace and her parents were in the lighthouse. Grace, unable to sleep, was watching the storm from her bedroom window. Through the darkness she saw a large, black shape on Harcar Rock – a ship – and ran to wake her father.
Through a telescope, they studied the wreck for signs of life and at this point saw none. Grace continued to watch and as daylight swelled, at around 7.00am, she saw movement. There were what looked to be three or four survivors after all.
Thomasin, Grace’s mother was against it – afraid they would both be drowned and William himself was dubious. Grace however, was insistent. Two people at least were needed to handle the 20ft boat so both William and Grace made haste to launch it. Almost immediately they disappeared from view and poor Thomasin thought they were lost. They were not however. William had decided to take the southerly course around Blue Caps and Clove Car to Big Harcar. It was the long way round, nearly a mile in distance, but much more sheltered. Nevertheless the gale, the swell, the noise and the sheer physical effort involved must have been incredible. Eventually they fought their way to the wreck and instead of the handful of survivors they expected, there were, mercifully, no fewer than nine. William realised that two trips were now required.
They arrived safely at Longstone and William returned with the two crewmen to collect the remaining crewman and three passengers. The three bodies were left, to collect when it was safer to do so.
Books were written about her; often fictional accounts, which bore little resemblance to the actual events; poems were penned by no lesser writers than Wordsworth and Swinburne; songs sung and even theatrical dramatisations performed in great London theatres.
Floods of cheap souvenirs were made and Cadbury even produced a range of ‘Grace Darling’ chocolates.
In an attempt to deflect the adulation she was receiving, Grace began to say that it was God who had given her the strength to carry out the rescue. This only made matters worse.
The Church leapt onto it and many clergymen and representatives were sent to visit and write to her, wanting to meet to reflect on matters spiritual.
The public’s obsession with Grace Darling did not diminish a degree right up what tragically became her last year of life.
Grace began to realise that the end from tuberculosis was close. She asked for her family to be summoned and from her deathbed Grace distributed personal items to her relatives. She was quite calm and composed at this time. I believe that the knowledge that she was dying and that the unrelenting pressure would soon be over was a blessed relief to her.
For those interested in Grace's family tree I have found an interesting website which outlines her family tree. It has not been researched or written by me, but contains some interesting information for those of you 'Darling' descendants.