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Friday, 26 November, 1999, 17:45 GMT
Victorian heroine's medal sold
Darling Sotheby's medal specialist Edward Playfair with the medal

The silver bravery medal awarded to lifesaver Grace Darling for her part in a heroic rescue of shipwreck victims in 1838 has been sold for 38,900 - nearly double the asking price.

An anonymous telephone buyer bought the medal after a frantic three minute bidding war at Sotheby's in London.

The RNLI awarded the medal after Grace, 22, and her lighthouse keeper father William, rowed a mile in a raging storm to the stricken SS Forfarshire, which had floundered on rocks near Farne Island, off the Northumberland coast.

Grace Darling symbolised everything the RNLI stands for; risking her own life to save others, selflessness and courage
Edward Wake-Walker
The pair saved nine lives but 43 people drowned in the tragedy.

The medal remained in the family for 160 years but a descendant decided to sell it because he could no longer afford to insure it.

Sotheby's said it did not know the name or nationality of the person who secured the historic keepsake.

It is waiting to find out if the new owner intends to hand over the medal to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) museum at Bamburgh, Northumberland, which is dedicated to the memory of Grace Darling.

RNLI head of public relations, Edward Wake-Walker who was at Friday's auction, said: "Obviously we are disappointed there is now no guarantee the medal will remain in this country."

RNLI 'not in a position to bid'

A consortium of two trusts from the North East, the Northern Rock Foundation and the James Knott Trust, which were trying to obtain the medal for the RNLI on a limited budget, were unable to keep up with the bidding.

Northern Rock director Fiona Ellis said: "Obviously we're disappointed. The whole idea behind the consortium was to keep the medal in the North East."

The medal was expected to fetch between 15,000 and 20,000.

The RNLI, which runs the Grace Darling museum, said it was not in a position to bid for the medal because its funds were spent purely on saving lives at sea.

But Mr Wake-Walker said Grace Darling symbolised everything RNLI crews stood for during the charity's 175 years in existence, "risking her own life to save others, selflessness and courage".

It is understood the Darling family had made a replica of the medal and will present it to the museum at some point.

Sotheby's medal specialist Edward Playfair said the medal, which was made to Grace four years before she died of tuberculosis, was a piece of history.

He said: "It is the ultimate life saving medal. In terms of carrying out a single feat of bravery, she is probably Britain's greatest heroine and this is the premier award for an act which did not only make an impression in this country but also abroad."

Grace's heroism - she kept the boat steady as survivors scrambled to safety - made her a Victorian icon.

Poets William Wordsworth and Algernon Swinburne wrote verses about her and she was also the subject of several books and paintings.

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See also:
20 Nov 99 |  UK
Titanic watch up for auction
08 Nov 99 |  UK
Air hero's report up for sale
28 Oct 99 |  Americas
Marilyn's million dollar dress

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