Those few men from the Forfarshire who had saved themselves by launching a boat on that fateful day were soon ashore, reporting the disaster. They assumed the others had all perished in the wreck and they knew nothing of the Darlings’ rescue. But within days word spread of survivors being saved. Local news reporters were quickly on the scene. Amongst them was a journalist from the Berwickshire and Kelso Warder who met with some of those rescued by the Darlings. One survivor wept as he disclosed that a young woman in a rowing boat had come to save them.
The story immediately made the local newspapers. News of this act of outstanding courage spread like wildfire, throughout the country. Within days The Times had published an account. The papers described in detail the violence of the storm and the tragic fate of the Forfarshire and its passengers, but how against all the odds Grace, with her father, had been able to save nine souls from the wreck. It fired the imagination of the public who declared her a heroine. One correspondent to The Times wrote: “Is there in the whole field of history, or of fiction even, one instance of female heroism to compare for one moment with this?”
In addition, the point was made that she had risked her life for people she did not know - for strangers. There was a call from some quarters that this deed of exceptional bravery should be rewarded. William’s involvement received little comment; it was all about Grace - the beginning of a media frenzy.
Presents and donations came flooding in. Subscription funds were set up for her and money sent to her directly from the public. Fine items of silk and silverware, books and bibles arrived from admirers the length and breadth of the country. The young Queen Victoria herself, just nineteen, sent Grace £50 as a token of her esteem.
Fuelled by the publicity, her fame swept the nation. She received hundreds of letters addressed to the lighthouse, praising her actions. Many requested her signature, locks of her hair or a piece of the garment she wore during the rescue. There were letters with instructions for her to kiss the paper written on and return. Grace was flattered at first but dutifully replying to all well-wishers became an ordeal for her as the attention towards her intensified.
Visitors arrived at Longstone in hired boats every day, many unannounced, to catch a glimpse of Grace hoping to meet her, touch her, or touch her clothes. Others were content to stand and stare.
A certificate testifying to the Darlings’ bravery was sent directly to the Duke of Wellington as Master of Trinity House. The Duke, effectively William Darling’s employer, asked for a full account of events from William himself.
Her story and her fame spread across Europe. The people of Japan learned of her deed and detailed accounts were also published in America and Australia. She had become a celebrity.
The public wanted to know everything about her and were intrigued to know what she looked like. Physical descriptions from some reporters set the pattern - the image of an ordinary, feminine young woman with windswept hair. It was her ordinariness that was attractive and artists were immediately commissioned to paint her likeness.
Grace Darling’s act of selfless courage, in her own mind just doing her duty, was recognised as something special and sealed her name in the annals of great British heroes. Her name became synonymous with outstanding bravery.