Grace Darling (I) (The Longstone Lighthouse)
DESCRIPTION: "Twas on the Longstone lighthouse there dwelt an Irish maid," Grace Darling. At dawn she saw "a storm tossed crew ... to the rocks were clinging." With her father's reluctant help, she launched a boat, rowed out, and "boldly saved that crew."
EARLIEST DATE: 1946 (Ranson); 19C (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 13(240))
KEYWORDS: drowning sea ship storm wreck sailor rescue
Sep 7, 1838 - Grace Darling and her father rescue nine of the crew of Forfarshire (source: Ranson)
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Ranson, pp. 86-87, "The Longstone Lighthouse" (1 text, 1 tune)
Bodleian, Harding B 13(240), "Grace Darling" ("Twas at the Longstone lighthouse"), unknown, no date; also Harding B 11(4158), "Grace Darling"
cf. "Grace Darling (II)" (subject)
cf. "Grace Darling (III)" (subject)
NOTES [674 words]: Ranson: "Grace Darling was the daughter of the light-house keeper on one of the Farne Islands (a group of Islands, also called The Staples, seventeen in number) two miles off the N.E. coast of Northumberland.... The song has evidently been adapted for Irish audiences." - BS
According to Paine, p. 188, the Forfarshire was a steamer which carried cargo fro Hull and Dundee. Built in 1834, her last trip began on September 5, 1838, from Hull. She suffered boiler problems the next day, and the engines eventually went out completely in a storm. Her pumps also were struggling (Cordingly, p. 218.) Captain Humble nonetheless decided to continue with sails only rather than seek shelter -- even though her unpowered paddlewheels would make her far less maneuverable. She was wrecked on the Farnes shoals a little before 4:00 a.m. on September 7 (Paine, p. 188).
No one seems quite sure how many were aboard; Hudson/Nicolls, p. 90, suggests a crew of 25, with 40 passengers. They say the boat broke in two on the rocks, with the stern section (with the captain and almost all of the passengers but only part of the crew) was swept out to sea,with no survivors. Cordingly, p. 218, suggests that she carried 55 passengers and crew in addition to Captain Humble and his wife. He says on p. 219 that the twelve who were on the forward section included a women, two children, a handful of other passengers, and carpenter John Tulloch, who managed to bring the survivors to a rock. They had no food and no shelter, and were soaking wet and in danger of hypothermia. And they were about a mile from the lighthouse.
The Longstone Lighthouse was built in 1826 to replace an earlier lighthouse which had been ineffective in preventing wrecks. The Darling family had long kept the lighthouse; William Darling had succeeded his father as keeper of the old lighthouse in 1815, and then had moved to the Longstone light when it was finished (Cordingly, p. 216).
William and his wife Thomasina (who apparently was considerably older than her husband) had nine children, but only two -- Grace and one boy -- were still at home in 1838, and the boy happened to be away on the night of the storm. The Forfarshire wreck was not the only time WIlliam Darling went on a rescue mission; Cordingly, p. 217, tells how he and his sons had rescued a man from the Autumn in 1834. By 1838, however, most of the boys had moved out.
Grace Darling was apparently the first to see the wrecked Forfarshire. Because it took at least two to handle their lifeboat (a 21-foot-long coble, according to Cordingly, p. 219), William Darling had to have Grace to help him go out on his rescue mission. The gale was still blowing, and their boat was open, so this was genuinely dangerous (Cordingly, p. xii).
Three of the survivors -- a clergyman and the two children -- had died before the Darlings could reach them (Cordingly, p. 220). It took two trips, but the nine passengers still living were all brought back to Longstone (Cordingly, p. 221. Several of them helped with the rowing during the rescue).
Although William and Grace both took part in the rescue, it was Grace who became famous for her part (as Cordingly says on p. 215, "For a woman to row out to a shipwreck in a storm was unheard of, and the story received even more attention for the fact that the woman was twenty-two years old, had a pleasant face and modest manner, and had a name that might have come straight from the pages of a Victorian novel). A subscription brought her about 750 pounds in gifts, and she became a popular subject of poetry and at least four books. The lighthouse became the site of a perverse sort of pilgrimages; the myriad visitors made it hard for the Darlings even to tend the lighthouse (Cprdingly, p. 222).
According to Benet, p. 275, Grace Horsley Darling was born in 1815, making her 22 years old (and hence rather a spinster) at the time of the Forfarshire wreck. She died in 1842, still a heroine, of a cough she picked up not too long after the rescue (Cordingly, p. 223).- RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- Benet: William Rose Benet, editor, The Reader's Encyclopdedia, first edition, 1948 (I use the four-volume Crowell edition but usually check it against the single volume fourth edition edited by Bruce Murphy and published 1996 by Harper-Collins. The entry on Grace Darling, however, was deleted from the fourth edition)
- Cordingly: David Cordingly, Women Sailors and Sailors' Women, Random House, 2001 (I use the undated, but later, paperback edition)
- Hudson/Nicholls: Kenneth Hudson & Ann Nicholls, Tragedy on the High Seas: A History of ShipwrecksA & W Publishers, 1979
- Paine: Lincoln P. Paine, Ships of the World, Houghton Mifflin, 1997
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.