Extreme clipper ship built in 1854 by Donald McKay, East Boston, for the Black Ball Line (James Baines & Co.), Liverpool. Her dimensions were: 226'× 44'× 26' [loa 243'] and tonnage: 2084 tons.

1854 January 3
Launched at the shipyard of Donald McKay, East Boston, MA, USA, for the Black Ball Line (James Baines & Co.), Liverpool. Duncan McLean gave a detailed description of the ship in The Boston Daily Atlas Tuesday, January 31, 1854.

A very similar description was printed John W. Griffth's U.S. Nautical Magazine and Naval Journal, Vol. III (1854).

          No timid hand or hesitating brain gave form and dimensions

          to the Lightning. Very great stability; acute extremities; full,

          short midship body; comparativily small deadrise, and the

          longest end forward, are points in the excellence of this


John Willis Griffiths: Monthly Nautical Magazine, Vol. IV (1855), August.

1854 February 18 - March 3 

     Sailed Boston - Liverpool in 13 days, 20 hours under command of

Captain James Nicol Forbes who had left the Marco Polo to take

     command of Donald McKay's new clipper. 

     In a Letter to the Editor of the Nothern Daily Times dated, March 8th,

     1854, Captain Forbes disputes a calim from Captain Eldridge of Red

     Jacket of having done the fastest Atlantic crossing. 

          Not a ripple curled before her cutwater, nor did the water

          break at a single place along her sides. She left a wake

          straight as an arrow, and this was the only mark of her

          progress. There was a slight swell, and as she rose, one

          could see the arc of her forefoot rise gently over the sea as

          she increased her speed. 

Duncan McLean: Boston Daily Atlas, 1854.

1854 March 1 

     On the this day the Lightning sailed 436 miles, which is the longest

     day's run recorded by a sailing ship. 

          March 1. — Wind S., strong gales; bore away for the

          North Channel, carried away the foretopsail and lost jib;

          hove the log several times, and found the ship going through

          the water at the rate of 18 to 18½ knots per hour; lee rail

          under water, and the rigging slack; saw the Irish land at 9:30

          p.m. Distance run in the twenty-four hours, 436 miles. 

From the Abstract log.

1854 May 14 - July 31 

     Sailed Liverpool - Melbourne in 77 days. The round trip from England

     to Australia and Back has been discussed by John Willis Griffiths in

     the U.S. Nautical Magazine and Naval Journal, Vol. III (1954).

     Excerpts from a passenger diary from this passage have also been

     reprinted in the Dog Watch No. 18 (1968) & 19 (1969). 

1854 August 20 - October 23 

     Sailed Melbourne - Liverpool in 64 days 3 hours. 


     Sailed from Liverpool to Melbourne in 73 days [78 days according to

     Stammers]. Captain Anthony Enright succeeded Captain Forbes as

     master who was to assume of command of a new ship, the unlucky


1855 April 11 - June 29 

     Sailed from Melbourne to Liverpool in 79 days. Eleven issues of The

     Lightning Gazette printed onboard during the passage have been

     reprinted in Sea Breezes Vol. 18-19 (1954-1955). 


     Sailed from Liverpool to Melbourne in 81 days. 

1855 December 28 

     Sailed from Melbourne to Liverpool. 

1856 May 6 

     Sailed from Liverpool to Melbourne in 68 days 10 hours. 

1856 August 28 

     Sailed from Melbourne to Liverpool in 84 days. 

1857 February 5 

     Sailed from Liverpool to Melbourne in 69 days 6 hours. 

1857 March 19 

     Sailed 430 miles in 24 hours while bound for Australia. This is the

     second longest day's run recorded by a sailing ship. 

1857 May 11 

     Sailed from Melbourne to Liverpool in 82 days. 

Sailed from Melbourne to Liverpool in 82 days. 

1857 August 25 

     Sailed from Portsmouth to India in 87 days with 650 men and officers

     of the 7th Hussar regiment. 


     Sailed from Melbourne to Liverpool where she arrived on May 11 after

     80 days. 


     Sold to Thomas Harrison, Liverpool, but continued to sail for the

     Black Ball Line. 

1869 October 31 

     Burned while loading wool at Geelong. The disaster was described in

the Geelong Advertiser, November 1, 1869. 

In a Letter to the Editor of the Scientific American published November 26, 1859, Donald McKay writes:

     Although I designed and built the Clipper Ship Lightning and

     therefore ought to be the last to praise her, yet such has been her

     performance since Englishmen learned to sail her that I must

     confess I feel proud of her. You are aware that she was so sharp

     and concave forward that one of her stupid captains who did not

     comprehend the principle upon which she was built, persuaded

     the owners to fill in the hollows of her bows. They did so, and

     according to their British bluff notions, she was not only better

     for the addition, but would sail faster, and wrote me to the effect.

     Well, the next passage to Melbourne, Australia, she washed the

     encumbrance away on one side, and when she returned to

     Liverpool, the other side was also cleared away. Since then she

     has been running as I modelled her. As a specimen of her speed,

     I may say that I saw recorded in her log (of 24 hours) 436

     nautical miles, a trifle over 18 knots an hour. 

Select Bibliography:

The Lightning Gazette, Nos. 13-23. 

     Sea Breezes Vol. 18 (July - December) & Vol. 19 (January - June),

     Liverpool, 1954-1955. 

     The Lightning Passage. 

     The Dogwatch, No. 25 and No. 26, Melbourne, 1968-1969. 

     Chapelle, Howard I.: The Search for Speed Under Sail 1700-1855. 

     Bonanza Books, New York, 1967. +8vo, xiv, 451 pp, ill, 16 pl. 

     Howe, Octavius T. & Matthews, Fredric C.: American Clipper Ships


     Argosy Antiquarian, New York, 1967 (facs av ou 1926). 2 vols. 

     McLean, Duncan: The New Clipper Lightning, of Liverpool. 

     The Boston Daily Atlas, Vol. XXII, No. 181, Tuesday, January 31,


Reprinted in Howes & Matthews: American Clipper Ships

     1833-1858, 1926. pp 356-365, and in Nautical Research Journal Vol.

     25 (1979), pp 65-68. 

     Loney, Jack: The Clipper Lightning in Geelong 1862-1869. 

     Portarlington, Victoria, 1988. A4, 24 pp, ill. 

     McKay, Richard: Some Famous Sailing Ships and Their Builder

     Donald McKay. 

     G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1928. 8vo, xxvii, 395 pp, 62 pl. 

     Stammers, Michael K.: The Passage Makers. 

     Teredo Books, Brighton, 1978. +8vo, xxii, 508 pp, ill. 

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