2.5 A Heroine of the Sea

Around the rocky coast of England stand many lonely lighthouses. Their lights, shining across the sea, warn sailors at night of dangerous rocks. When they see the lights sailors take their ships far out to sea. But sometimes fierce storms drive ships on to the rocks. This is the story of a brave girl and of a shipwreck on the rocks one night in 1838.

Grace Darling was the daughter of a lighthouse keeper. She had lived all her life in lonely lighthouses, far away from towns and cities. There was not even a village near their home. Their nearest neighbours were many miles away. But Grace’s father was a wise and educated man who brought up his children very carefully. Grace and her brothers and sisters were all taught to read and write. Their father also taught them to be honest and brave and unselfish.

 When Grace was ten years old the family went to live in the Longstone lighthouse. Their new home was on some wild islands, near the east coast of England. The Darling children grew up here. When they were older they left their lonely home, one by one, and found work in the cities. At last, all of them had left the lighthouse, except Grace, who stayed at home to help her mother and father. She had not grown very tall.

She was only a little woman, not at all like her father, who was more than six feet tall. On the night of September 6th 1838, a terrible storm was blowing. Grace was used to storms.

 She herself was warm and safe in the big lighthouse. But she was always unhappy about the poor sailors who were at sea in the storm. She did not know that a terrible thing was happening that night. That night a ship was wrecked upon the rocks. Grace and her parents did not hear the sound of the crash. The noise of the wind and the waves was too loud. They could not hear anything else. But a ship called the Forfarshire had hit the rocks a mile away from the lighthouse. Most of the passengers were drowned, but nine men and women were able to climb on to a rock. The wind nearly blew them into the sea as they clung to the bare rock. In the distance they saw the warm light of the lighthouse. But of course their shouts and screams were not heard. All night they clung there in the storm.

 Next morning at six o’clock Grace was dressing. She looked out of her window and saw the storm was still blowing. Suddenly she stopped! Wasn’t there something on the distant rocks? Calling her father, she looked again. Yes, there were certainly people clinging on to the rocks. But they were half under the sea!

‘We must rescue them before they are drowned!’ cried Grace. We must do something! Will you ever sleep again, Father, if they die?

 William Darling was a brave old man, but he shook his head. ‘It is hopeless,’ he said. ‘‘We can do nothing. How can I row a boat by myself through these waves? If only I had another man here to help me!’’

‘I can help you, Father,’ cried Grace. ‘I can row a boat as well as any man, can’t I? I am small but I am strong. You and I have often rowed together. We can reach those unfortunate people!’

 Mrs Darling was with her husband and daughter at the window. ‘No, no!’ she exclaimed. ‘How will it help those poor people if you are drowned? You cannot row in this storm. Do not try! A girl like you, Grace, cannot do a man’s job. Let us pray for them, husband. God will help them, perhaps, but we cannot!’

Grace was determined, however. She argued until at last her father agreed. Poor Mrs Darling, with a heavy heart, helped them to get the boat out. She watched and prayed as they set off.

 Anyone who has seen a storm at sea can imagine that journey. The boat went up and down over waves as high as hills. Sometimes it stood on one end, sometimes on the other end. It went up, up to the top of a wave and then down, down into a great valley between the waves. Every time they went down the boat nearly went under the water.

But little by little, pulling with all their strength on the oars, they came nearer the rocks. The wind and the rain were so strong that Grace could not see the men and women clinging to the rocks. She only heard their cries for help. She needed all her strength to hold on to the oar, which was bigger than herself.

At last they came close to the rocks. William Darling was able to jump on to the rocks while Grace, all alone, held the two men into the boat. The two sailors from the wrecked ship were able to row. They helped the Darlings during the long journey back to the lighthouse. Then Grace and the three women got out. Old William Darling and the two sailors rowed back across the dangerous sea to rescue the four men still on the rock.

Grace did not have any time to rest now. All that day she was busy helping her mother to warm and feed the rescued passengers. After several days these passengers were able to return to their homes in England. They told the story of the brave girl and her father to their families and friends. Suddenly Grace Darling and her father were famous. The story of their heroism was told in the newspapers. Money was raised to help all the lighthouse keepers in their dangerous, lonely lives. Grace and her father were given a special reward for their heroism. Poor Grace did not live long after the rescue. She died at the age of twenty seven. But she is still remembered for her unselfish courage. She risked her own life for others.