Grace Darling or The Wreck of the “Forfarshire”

As the night was beginning to close in one rough September day
In the year of 1838, a steamer passed through the Fairway
Between the Farne Islands and the coast, on her passage northwards;
But the wind was against her, and the steamer laboured hard.

There she laboured in the heavy sea against both wind and tide,
Whilst a dense fog enveloped her on every side;
And the mighty billows made her timbers creak,
Until at last, unfortunately, she sprung a leak.

Then all hands rushed to the pumps, and wrought with might and main.
But the water, alas! alarmingly on them did gain;
And the thick sleet was driving across the raging sea,
While the wind it burst upon them in all its fury.

And the fearful gale and the murky aspect of the sky
Caused the passengers on board to Lament and sigh
As the sleet drove thick, furious, and fast,
And as the waves surged mountains high, they stood aghast.

And the screaming of the sea-birds foretold a gathering storm,
And the passengers, poor souls, looked pale and forlorn,
And on every countenance was depicted woe
As the “Forfarshire” steamer was pitched to and fro.

And the engine-fires with the water were washed out,
Then, as the tide set strongly in, it wheeled the vessel about
And the ill-fated vessel drifted helplessly along;
But the fog cleared up a little as the night wore on.

Then the terror-stricken crew saw the breakers ahead,
And all thought of being saved from them fled,
And the Farne lights were shining hazily through the gloom,
While in the fore-cabin a woman lay with two children in a swoon.

Before the morning broke, the “Forfarshire” struck upon a rock,
And was dashed to pieces by a tempestuous shock,
Which raised her for a moment, and dashed her down again,
Then the ill-starred vessel was swallowed up in the briny main

Before the vessel broke up, some nine or ten of the crew intent
To save their lives, or perish in the attempt,
Lowered one of the boats while exhausted and forlorn,
And, poor souls, were soon lost sight of in the storm.

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.

Connected with this, the most calamitous case of shipwreck perhaps that has occurred since the loss of the Rothsay 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. I allude to the heroic conduct of Miss Grace Horsley Darling, who, together with her father, Mr. William Darling, are the sole occupants of the Outer Fern Lighthouse, which is situated in the immediate vicinity of the scene of the accident, and completely surrounded by the sea. 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 that 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 “hairbreadth ’scapes,” 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 in pieces, was rapidly rowed back among the awful abyss of waters, and kept afloat by the skilfulness and dexterity of his noble-minded daughter, who is 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.


The Times, 19th September 1838


In the early hours of September 7th 1838 a 22-year-old lighthouse keeper’s daughter rowed her way into legend. Spotting the wreck of the Forfarshire a mile away, she persuaded her father to go to the rescue of the survivors clinging to the Big Harcar rocks. DARLING, GRACE HORSLEY, whose death occurred on October 20, 1842, was the daughter of William Darling, the keeper of the Longstone lighthouse, situated on a group of the Farne Islands, on the coast of Northumberland, and was born in 1815. She was only twenty-two when the incident occurred which has made her name famous. The “Forfarshire” steamer, bound from Hull to Dundee with a valuable cargo, and having on board forty-one passengers, was completely wrecked in a terrible storm, which occurred September 5, 1838, off the Farne Islands. all but nine of the crew were drowned, and these managed to cling to the wreck, hoping if they could hold out long enough that someone would come to their rescue. The Darlings could see these poor people from the lighthouse, but William Darling thought it was impossible to get any boat through such a raging sea, and it was only Grace’s urgent entreaties that made him consent to start with her on their perilous journey. The difficulties of the undertaking were almost insurmountable; but father and daughter rowed on with tremendous courage and determination, and at last reached the survivors, whom they took back to the lighthouse, where, owing to the continuance of the storm, they had to remain for several days. A subscription of £700 was raised for Grace, and was invested for her benefit under the trusteeship of the Duke of Northumberland and Archdeacon Thorpe, besides which she received numerous testimonials of greater or less value from admiring strangers. She died of consumption at the house of her sister in Bamborough, in which place she is buried.
[Ward, T.H.; Men of the reign of Queen Victoria; 1885]

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Comments (4) »

  1. andrew white,jr
    In the year 2012, on the 15th day of June at 9:03 pm

    i have a picture by thomas boys .how do i know that it is real

  2. In the year 2013, on the 16th day of May at 9:09 pm


    Really interesting site and nice design too . .

    Thanks for linking to our site ( ) We are looking to radically expand it very soon based on new research we are doing . .. one thing I’ve always wanted to do is built an accurate 3d computer model of the Forfarshire. We know the GD Museum has a crude overhead deck plan but wondered if you know the whereabouts of the construction plans for the ship? .. . It was of coarse built in Dundee.

    Thought I would ask .. . many thanks.

    John .. ( distant cousin of GD )

  3. Anji
    In the year 2014, on the 7th day of February at 12:38 pm

    Another suprisingly touching one from Mr McG. I never knew that Grace was accompanied by her father in her rescue attempt, or indeed that she died so young. Thank you Mr McG for such an informative and interesting poem!

  4. In the year 2017, on the 29th day of June at 10:29 pm

    […] on her Jubilee Year,” “The Wreck of the Steamer London While on Her Way to Australia,” “Grace Darling or the Wreck of the ‘Forfarshire’,” and his most renowned poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster” show, from his choice of subject, his […]

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