Life on the Farnes - The Darlings

Nick Lewis, House steward Nick Lewis House steward

The two lighthouses on the Farne Islands are one of their most prominent features, and until the 20th century they were manned by a succession of keepers the most famous of whom were the Darling family.

The first of them was Robert Darling in 1795. He was appointed the keeper on the outer Farnes and for the first 15 years was in charge of the beacon light on Brownsman. This was in the form of a 40 foot high tower, which burned timber and coals in a fire basket on the roof and Darling and his family lived in the bottom. In 1805 his son William with his wife Thomasin came to join his father.

In 1810 a new lighthouse was built with a cottage attached to it, and it was here that William and Thomasin brought up their nine children. Robert died in 1815 and William became the principle keeper. In 1826 the whole family moved into the newly built lighthouse on Longstone and here William stayed until he retired in 1860.

The Darling family lived in the cottage on Brownsman
The cottage and old lighthouse on the Brownsman, one of the Farne Islands
The Darling family lived in the cottage on Brownsman

The most famous of William and Thomasin Darling’s family was their youngest daughter Grace. It was with her that William Darling rescued the survivors from the wreck of the paddle steamer the ‘Forfarshire’ in 1838.  Grace would go on to become a Victorian celebrity with dozens of artists visiting the islands to paint her and a huge amount of money being raised for her benefit, including £50 from Queen Victoria. Two of the Darling's children also became lighthouse keepers. William junior, the eldest son was the first keeper at Coquet Island lighthouse in 1841, and around the same time William Brooks, one of their younger sons, was appointed to the Longstone as William Darling’s assistant keeper. Both the sons stayed at their respective lighthouses until 1859 when they swapped positions, with William Brooks being appointed to Coquet, and William junior coming to the Longstone in preparation to take over when his father retired in 1861. 

William Darling junior died in 1869, but prior to this, his daughter Grace married Thomas Owen Hall one of the keepers at the Inner Farne light. His two youngest sons also called Thomas and William became lighthouse keepers and this William served on the Inner Farne from 1877-1875.

William Brooks Darling died at Coquet in 1870.