Divers to investigate Grace Darling wreck

English Heritage has announced that archaeological divers will be examining the wreck of the Forfarshire, the ship which made Grace Darling a household name

Grace Darling painting by J W Carmichael
Grace Darling painting by J W Carmichael

Divers are to explore the wreck of the ship which made Grace Darling a household name.

English Heritage has announced that archaeological divers will be examining the wreck of the Forfarshire, survivors of which were famously rescued by Grace and her father 175 years ago.

The dive could see the wreck given protected status.

It was last night described as exciting by the boss of a museum dedicated to the story of Grace.

Half of the Forfarshire, a paddle steamer, sank after it hit rocks on the Farne Islands in Northumberland in 1838.

Grace and her father, who lived in a lighthouse on the islands, sailed to the rescue of some survivors.

Now, English Heritage has said that the Forfarshire is one of 88 unrecorded pre-1840 wrecks which divers will be looking at over the summer.

Divers will submit a detailed report on the site to English Heritage, which will determine whether it is nationally important.

It could then be recommended in a shortlist to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in the autumn.

Mark Dunkley, maritime designation adviser for English Heritage, said: “Watercraft tell a fascinating story of England’s military, industrial and social history, but very little is known about those that existed before 1840.

That’s why we are taking the initiative to investigate pre-1840 ships and boats, from wooden sailing vessels to the very start of iron-hulled steam ships.

“This is part of a wider programme to ensure that current or future threats to the most important early wrecks are reduced through designation. We want to help ensure that future generations can understand and value these important sites.”

Last night, Virginia Mayes-Wright, manager of the RNLI Grace Darling Museum at Bamburgh, said: “We think it is terribly exciting.

“It would be lovely to know how much, if any, of the Forfarshire has survived.

“We know that most of it was washed away to sea.”

She felt the dive could only add to interest in the story of Grace.

“We have a number of items on display in the museum found on the wreck and from the wreck site.

“We do not think there is much left out there because of the time that’s passed. It is 175 years ago this year.

“It would be really interesting to see what is left.”

The 88 sites were revealed last year in a desk survey that looked at the archaeological evidence of watercraft from the earliest times to about 1840, using new English Heritage guidance on early shipwreck sites.

The Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, published 40 years ago today, secured for the first time the protection of historic wrecks from unauthorised diving.

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