Historic ‘lost’ artefacts to go on show at Grace Darling Museum

William Darling's silver gallantry medal. Picture by Colin Davison
William Darling's silver gallantry medal. Picture by Colin Davison

Recently-discovered items from the Darling family which had been thought lost are being showcased in a new exhibition.

Tribute to a Heroine: 80 years of the Grace Darling Museum will be on view at the Bamburgh venue from July 21 to September 2.

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.

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 shipwrecks, 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.”

The museum, which in 2007 underwent a redevelopment funded by a £1million Heritage Lottery Fund contribution and other donations, is open daily from April to September, between 10am and 5pm. Entry is free.

If you would like to know more about the exhibition or if you are interested in volunteering at the museum, email askgracedarling@rnli.org.uk or call 01668 214910.