Grace Darling and the Fine Art of Saving Lives at Sea by James Taylor – Thursday 2nd May 2024

There will be few who have not seen Thomas Brooke’s famous picture of RNLI’s poster girl, Grace Darling.

Brooks, Thomas; Grace Darling (1815-1842); RNLI Grace Darling Museum;

Former curator of Greenwich Maritime Museum and writer, Dr James Taylor, gave members an interesting and well illustrated talk on why she is so famous.

Grace was the seventh of nine children of an English lighthouse keeper and she gained notoriety when she and her father rescued survivors from the SS Farfairshire, after it was shipwrecked on the Fairne Island in 1838. Having seen the broken ship from the lighthouse on Longstone Island, they rowed in a small boat for nearly a mile, through rough seas and a dreadful storm, to save nine of the sixty-two crew.

As news of her role in the rescue reached the public, Grace’s combination of bravery and simple background set her out as exemplary and she became the nation’s heroine. She and her father were awarded the Silver Medal for Bravery by the ‘Royal National Institution for the Preservation of life from Shipwreck’ later named the RNLI.

Artists were fascinated by the story and more than a dozen portrait painters drew her, including John Wilson Charmichael and Thomas Musgrave-Joy. There are numerous paintings which focus on the shipwreck and rescue. Songs, ballads and quadrilles were written too.

Donations raised £700 including £50 from Queen Victoria and Grace received hundreds of gifts and letters. The Duke of Northumberland took on a role as guardian and funded a trust to look after the money gifted to her.

Grace died of TB in 1842 at the age of 26 and is buried in the churchyard of St Aidans in Banburgh. The Grace Darling Museum in Banburgh, celebrates her story.

Banburgh is also the home of the first lifeboat built in this country which was based on the very boat used by Grace and her father.

Jackie Bearman