RNLI Grace Darling Museum to showcase recently rediscovered artefacts

Lifeboats News Release

An exciting summer exhibition is coming to the RNLI Grace Darling Museum in Bamburgh, from 21 July until 2 September. The event will showcase some recently discovered – thought to be lost – items from the Darling family.

Photo by Colin Davison.

1.William Darling’s silver gallantry medal

William Darling’s silver RNLI medal and his original journal have recently come into the museum’s collection. These unique objects will help to ‘shine a light’ on Grace’s father’s role in the famous rescue.

Both objects will be on display in the exhibition: Tribute to a Heroine: 80 years of the Grace Darling Museum.

The missing journal was only discovered last October when it was taken to the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. The owner had inherited it from his father, but wasn’t aware of its significance and it had been sitting overlooked in a drawer. After talking to the show’s experts, he decided to give the journal to the museum on a long-term loan, together with a large number of letters to and from William.

William Darling (1786-1865) succeeded his father as lighthouse keeper on the Farne Islands in 1815, two months before his seventh child, Grace, was born. Together with his wife and nine children he lived and worked at the lighthouse, first on Brownsman, then Longstone Island. A keen naturalist, William kept records of bird counts and corresponded with ornithologists and museums.

Though his part in the rescue has been downplayed over time in favour of Grace’s, William played a vital role in the now famous rescue of the survivors of the SS Forfarshire in 1838. To honour their bravery, both he and his daughter received a silver medal for gallantry from the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, now the RNLI.

After William’s death, the medal was passed down to his son, and further down the line once he passed away. The family has now decided to gift the medal to the RNLI Grace Darling Museum, along with other objects belonging to William, so they can be seen by visitors to Bamburgh, including their own children and grandchildren.

A lot of what is known about what life was like for the Darling’s came from William’s journal. His writings kept track of ship wrecks, weather conditions, bird life and general observations. The journal was published in 1886, and a copy of the original is held at Northumberland Archives, but the whereabouts of the original were unknown for decades.

The museum is honoured to have received these objects, each of which are of vital importance to the story of Grace and William Darling.

Marleen Vincenten, Heritage Development Manager, said: ‘It’s amazing to be able to show these important objects to our visitors, as they help tell William’s story as well as that of Grace.

‘The journal and the letters contain a wealth of information about the family’s life before and after the rescue and the fame that came with it. The medal shows how important William’s part in the rescue was, and how highly regarded he was by the RNLI even though he never worked for the institution.’

If you would like to know more about the exhibition or are interested in volunteering at the museum, please contact the RNLI Grace Darling Museum on 01668 214910 or email askgracedarling@rnli.org.uk

Picture captions

  1. William Darling’s silver gallantry medal – Photo by Colin Davison.

  2. William Darling’s journal, opened on the entry about the 1838 rescue – Photo by Colin Davison.

  3. Portrait of William Darling – photo credit: RNLI.

RNLI media contacts

For more information, please contact Clare Hopps, RNLI Regional Media Officer for the North East and East, on 07824 518641 or at clare._hopps@rnli.org.uk

The RNLI Grace Darling Museum

Following a major redevelopment funded by a £1M Heritage Lottery Fund contribution and other donations, the RNLI Grace Darling Museum reopened at the end of 2007. The museum celebrates the life of the iconic Victorian heroine who was just 22 when she rowed with her father in raging seas to reach survivors of the wrecked SS Forfarshire. The museum is run by the RNLI and is part of a group of six museums across the country.

The Museum is open daily from April to September between 10am-5pm and from October to March (from Tuesday to Sunday), 10am-4pm. Entry is free.

Photo by Colin Davison.

2.William Darling’s journal, opened on the entry about the 1838 rescue


3.Portrait of William Darling

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

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