A ROYAL INTERVENTION
The Darlings had cousins, the MacFarlanes, who had a greengrocer’s shop in Narrowgate Street, Alnwick. Sometimes they went to stay with them. The shop was literally in the shadow of the castle walls of Alnwick. From within this great castle Grace was to find an unlikely benefactor and guardian, Hugh Percy, the 3rd Duke of Northumberland.
THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
The Duke had visited Longstone in 1825 when the lighthouse was being built, and he had met the Darlings. In September 1838, upon hearing of the Forfarshire rescue he immediately wrote to the Master of Trinity House, none other than the Duke of Wellington himself, informing him of the Darlings’ heroic deed and sending testimonials from some of those rescued. Trinity House awarded £10 each to William and Grace in recognition.
In another letter the Duke of Northumberland wrote, “…Darling and his daughter… risked everything in the cause of humanity”. The Duke was generous by nature; as president of the Royal Humane Society he ordered two gold medals to be issued, made to his design. Gold medals were only awarded in exceptional circumstances; it is clear that the Duke’s personal interest in the Darlings was instrumental in this. They were to be awarded to William and Grace in person.
THE DUCHESS and QUEEN VICTORIA
The Duke’s wife, the Duchess Charlotte Florentia, was highly regarded by her peers and was appointed governess to the 12 year-old Princess Victoria, the future Queen Victoria. The Duchess supervised Victoria’s education for the next six years, an education fit for a queen, until such time as Victoria did indeed become queen in 1837, at the age of 18. One year later and the young Queen Victoria was fully aware of the heroic deeds that had occurred on 7 September 1838. She personally sent £50 to the 22 year-old Grace as a token, which must have thrilled her.
GRACE VISITS THE DUKE
The day came when Grace and her father visited Alnwick. First of all Grace had to visit the bank to collect £50, her gift from Queen Victoria. From here she was escorted with her father to Alnwick Castle to be presented to the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, but news had travelled fast. Crowds had lined the streets for a glimpse of the now famous heroine and she found the attention overwhelming. Inside the safety of the castle they were welcomed by the Duke and Duchess. The lighthouse keeper and his modest daughter were warmly received and the Duke presented to them two specially struck medals in recognition of the deed. He reminded William that he had visited the lighthouse when it was being constructed, when Grace was just ten years old. The Duchess gave Grace a present of a Paisley shawl.
A ROYAL GUARDIAN
After the presentations the Duke suggested that he should become Grace’s guardian, for one thing to protect her from unscrupulous profiteers like William Batty. (The incident with Batty’s Circus had just occurred). The Duke’s proposal was instantly agreeable to William. It was arranged that any donations and gifts of money would come through the Duke’s lawyers – there were some large sums of money. The Duke appointed three trustees to look after Grace’s affairs; all were Crewe Trustees at Bamburgh Castle and were no strangers to the Darlings.
When they left the castle more crowds filled the streets and they took refuge in the Macfarlanes’ shop nearby, but this was also full of people. An eye-witness reporter from the Newcastle Journal wrote: “Grace…is a sweet, modest, and unassuming girl, and appears to be unconscious of having done anything great or noble”. Grace had captured the hearts of the nation; from the man in the street to royalty itself.
At Christmas 1838 the Duke sent a generous Christmas box to Longstone for Grace and her parents, with presents for them all, including the latest invention by Charles MacIntosh of Glasgow – waterproof clothing! Other items for the family included prayer books, a gold watch for Grace, more medals and a silver teapot for Mrs Darling.
The following year, 1839, the Duke personally ordered and financed the construction of a lighthouse on Coquet Island, which he owned, at no cost to Trinity House. At the same time he wrote to Trinity House personally recommending that William Darling, the eldest son of William and Thomasin, be appointed as the lighthouse keeper. He came with the Duke’s full backing.
The Duke of Northumberland and Grace corresponded regularly after this, Grace keeping him up to date with her situation. “I see by the newspapers that your brother (William Brooks) is married: are you likely to follow his example?” writes the Duke. “I have not got married yet for they say the man is master and there is much talk about bad masters,” was Grace’s rather mocking reply, as natural as if she were writing to a favourite uncle. She had had many offers of marriage, all of which she refused.
The Northumberlands’ corresponded with Grace, right up to the time of her decline.
During Grace’s final illness she was being looked after by the MacFarlanes in Alnwick. The Duchess personally saw to it that she was moved from the claustrophobic atmosphere of Narrowgate to a house above the noise of the town, on Prudhoe Street. Here the air was clearer, the street quieter. The Duchess herself came, plainly attired, and knelt by Grace’s bedside. She arranged for her own medics to attend; but the Duchess’s kindness was to no avail. Grace was dying.