Grace, unable to sleep, was watching the storm through her bedroom window. She saw a large, black shape on Harcar Rock. It was a ship; she knew that it must have struck the Rock. Grace woke her father and with a telescope they studied the wreck for signs of life. They saw none. Grace watched and watched. As daylight crept in around 7.00am Grace saw movement on the rock. There were indeed survivors of the wreck; two or three perhaps. William thought the sea was too rough for the lifeboat from Seahouses to set out. So he pondered. He knew the rocks and he knew the tides. Grace pleaded with her father that they both take out the coble to rescue them. Thomasin feared they would both be lost but Grace was already down at the coble, William knew he could not go out alone, so at the right moment they pushed the twenty-foot boat out into the sea. Thomasin watched, with dread from the lantern. At first she couldn't see the coble and feared the worst.
William had decided a southerly course to Big Harcar would see them benefit from some little shelter or else the coble would be at the mercy of the storm. This meant going the long way round. The route they took from Sunderland Hole on Longstone took them through the passage called Craford's Gut, down to Blue Caps then towards Harcar. Nearly a mile in distance. Defying the wind, the swell of the sea, the spray, the noise and the physical effort involved they eventually made towards the wreck of the Forfarshire and could see on the rock more survivors than they expected - nine or ten. William realised immediately that two trips were now required.
William and Grace managed to manoeuvre the coble near enough to the rock to enable William to leap across to the survivors. Grace now had to steady the coble on her own for some time, until her father could gather the weak survivors and attempt to transfer them into the boat. He had to be strong-willed in deciding who to take back and who to leave on the rock. There would have been distress, arguments, shouting over the noise of the storm. Mrs Dawson had her two small children clutched to her breast. They were dead and had to be left behind, for now. The extent of her anguish can only be imagined as, at William's insistence, she had to leave her children, lifeless, on the rock and be helped down to the coble.
An injured man was next; but William needed strong men to help, so he took two of the crew members, John Tulloch and John Nicholson. This left Daniel Donovan and three others on the rock, plus the bodies
of Reverend Robb and Mrs Dawson's children.
original photoart by
The Grace Darling window
Exact spot of the Forfarshire wreck
The crew members would have helped with the oars; Grace would have comforted the grieving mother and attended to the injured man as best she could. What a mixture of emotions William and Grace must have experienced. Exhausted, having hardly slept that night; joyous that lives had been saved; sorrow for the mother's loss; fear of the dangers of a necessary return trip in the storm.
They arrived safely at Longstone and William returned with the two crewmen to collect the remaining survivors. The three bodies were left, to collect when it was safer to do so. The whole rescue took two hours, from 7.00am to 9.00am.