Exeter Civic Society

Exeter Civic Society

Darling, Grace

Grace Darling, 1815 -1842, Sea rescue heroine

The memorial is beside St Thomas Church, Cowick Street, Exeter, EX4 1HR.

The inscription reads:

This stone was erected to commemorate the unparalleled achievement of Grace Horsley Darling who on Sept 7 1838 rescued nine human beings from the wreck of the Forfarshire steamer, Southern Islands off Northumberland. She died October 20th 1842 aged 26 and was buried in Bamburgh Churchyard Northumberland. Erected 1845 by permission of the vicar and churchwardens. Restored by subscription 1869 and again in 1911, 2003.

The country was amazed at the heroism of 23-year-old GRACE DARLING, daughter of the keeper of the Longstone Lighthouse on the Outer Farne Islands, off the coast of Northumberland, who, with her father, put out in a coble in mountainous seas to rescue survivors from the wrecked Scottish steamer, the Forfarshire. Although Grace had no connections with the area, local people in St Thomas, Exeter, paid for a memorial to be erected after her early death from tuberculosis.

The following extract from “Grace Darling or the Wreck of the Forfarshire” by the Scottish poet William McGonagell gives a dramatic picture of the rescue and its effect on Grace’s life:

Around the windlass on the forecastle some dozen poor wretches clung,
And with despair and grief their weakly hearts were rung
As the merciless sea broke o’er them every moment;
But God in His mercy to them Grace Darling sent.

By the first streak of dawn she early up had been,
And happened to look out upon the stormy scene,
And she descried the wreck through the morning gloom;
But she resolved to rescue them from such a perilous doom

Then she cried, Oh! father dear, come here and see the wreck,
See, here take the telescope, and you can inspect;
Oh! father, try and save them, and heaven will you bless;
But, my darling, no help can reach them in such a storm as this.

Oh! my kind father, you will surely try and save
These poor souls from a cold and watery grave;
Oh! I cannot sit to see them perish before mine eyes,
And, for the love of heaven, do not my pleading despise!

Then old Darling yielded, and launched the little boat,
And high on the big waves the boat did float;
Then Grace and her father took each an oar in hand,
And to see Grace Darling rowing the picture was grand.

And as the little boat to the sufferers drew near,
Poor souls, they tried to raise a cheer;
But as they gazed upon the heroic Grace,
The big tears trickled down each sufferer’s face.

And nine persons were rescued almost dead with the cold
By modest and lovely Grace Darling, that heroine bold;
The survivors were taken to the light-house, and remained there two days,
And every one of them was loud in Grace Darling’s praise.

Grace Darling was a comely lass, with long, fair floating hair,
With soft blue eyes, and shy, and modest rare;
And her countenance was full of sense and genuine kindliness,
With a noble heart, and ready to help suffering creatures in distress.

But, alas! three years after her famous exploit,
Which, to the end of time, will never be forgot,
Consumption, that fell destroyer, carried her away
To heaven, I hope, to be an angel for ever and aye.

Before she died, scores of suitors in marriage sought her hand;
But no, she’d rather live in Longstone light-house on Farne island,
And there she lived and died with her father and mother,
And for her equal in true heroism we cannot find another.

There is much information about Grace Darling on the internet, including www.GraceDarling.co.uk. For the full poem (it’s great stuff) and more about William McGonagall see www.mcgonagall-online.org.uk.
JM