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Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter risks all to save others

Year 1838

Read by Richard Shepherd – Supporter, Royal Humane Society

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September 7, 1838

On the 7th September 1838, the “Forfarshire ” was wrecked on the Harper Rock, three-quarters of a mile from the lighthouse on the Longstone, one of the Fame Islands, on the coast of Northumberland, the after-part of the wreck having been swept away by the violence of the sea, and the fore-part being left with nine persons on the rock. William Darling, the keeper of the lighthouse, did, at daybreak on that morning, with the assistance of his wife and daughter (being the only persons then with him at the lighthouse) launch the lighthouse boat, and he and his daughter, Grace Darling, about twenty-two years of age (who insisted on sharing her father’s danger), did, notwithstanding the force of the tempest, which was still raging, succeed in reaching the rock, and bringing those nine persons in safety to the lighthouse, where they were kept, and such assistance administered as their necessities required, till the weather permitted communication with the mainland, which was at the end of three days.

Connected with this, the most calamitous case of shipwreck perhaps that has occurred since the loss of the ” Rothesay Castle ” off the Isle of Anglesea, is an instance of heroism and intrepidity on the part of a female, unequalled perhaps, certainly not surpassed, by any on record. The heroic conduct of Miss Grace Horsley Darling, who, together with her father, Mr. William Darling, were sole occupants of the outer Fame Lighthouse, which is situated in the immediate vicinity of the scene of the accident, and completely surrounded by the sea, is alluded to. The cries of the sufferers on the remaining part of the wreck were heard during the night by this female, who immediately awakened her father. At the time, however, the darkness of the night was such as to preclude all possibility of their rendering any assistance to the individuals in distress ; but towards daybreak, on looking in the direction whence the cries had proceeded, they saw the wreck, and, after watching it for some time, discovered from some movement, that living beings were still clinging to it. At this crisis, and notwithstanding that the state of the tide and of the weather was such as to render any attempt to reach the wreck in an open boat hazardous in the extreme, the old man launched a small boat, and, accompanied by his intrepid daughter, proceeded towards the rescue of the persons on the wreck, each plying an oar. They succeeded, after many hair-breadth escapes, in navigating their frail skiff over the foaming billows, to within a little of the spot where the wreck appeared; but then the greatest danger was yet to be overcome, — the landing upon the rock, and the preservation, at the same time, of the boat from being dashed to pieces, in which case the means of their return would be effectually cut off. By a dangerous and desperate effort, however, the father was landed on the rock, and the frail boat, to prevent its being dashed to pieces, was rapidly rowed back among the awful abyss of water, and kept afloat by the skilfulness and dexterity of his noble-minded daughter, who was said to be of slender appearance. The persons whom they found upon the wreck consisted of five of the crew, and four of the deck passengers, who were at length got into the boat, and conveyed safely to the lighthouse, where the same tender hand that had been so eminently instrumental in preserving them from a watery grave, anxiously, for three days and nights, waited on the sufferers, administered to their wants, and soothed their afflictions. It is impossible to speak in adequate terms of the unparalleled bravery and disinterestedness shown on this occasion by Mr. Darling and his truly heroic daughter, especially so with regard to the latter. Surely such unexampled heroism will not go unrewarded.

In order to arrive at anything like a correct idea of the danger of the undertaking, and of the fortitude and disinterestedness of the individuals who encountered and overcame it, at the imminent risk of their own lives, let the reader reflect for a little on the attendant circumstances.

On every hand danger presented Itself in a thousand terrific forms. The ocean, lashed by the tempest into the most tumultuous commotion, presented a barrier which would have seemed to all but those two intrepid persons wholly insurmountable by human energy. Again, on the other hand, there was no hope of reward, no encouraging plaudit to stimulate to brave exertions or to awake emulation. Nothing but the pure and ardent wish to save the sufferers from impending destruction could have induced these two individuals to enter upon so perilous an expedition, fraught as it was with the imminent hazard of their own lives. Surely imagination in its loftiest creations never invested the female character with such a degree of fortitude as has been evinced by Miss Grace Horsley Darling on this occasion. Is there in the whole field of history, or of fiction, even one instance of female heroism to compare for one moment with this ! The gold medals of the Society were awarded for this act.

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