Lightning (clipper)

"Lightning" was a clipper ship, one of the last really large extreme clippers to be built in the USA. She was built by Donald McKay for James Baines of the Black Ball Line, Liverpool, for the Australia trade. ["Some famous sailing ships and their builder, Donald McKay", by Richard C. McKay. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1928; Easton Press, 1988.]

"Lightning" was the most extreme example of a type of ship classified as an extreme clipper. Her builder was the famous Donald McKay of Boston, a follower of John Willis Griffiths and his principles of ship design. "Lightning" is a prime example of a change in thinking that turned builders away from shaping ships' hulls like cod's heads and mackerel tails. She had convert|16|ft|m of concavity in her bows and a beautiful fine run, yet she also had a moderate deadrise and a good full midsection with tumblehome, allowing her to be fast yet stable with good sail-carrying ability.


When "Lightning" was built in 1854 in Boston, America's extreme clipper boom was on the wane. The Australian gold rush was on, however, and McKay was building ships for James Baines of the "Black Ball Line" (house flag featured a black disk ("ball") on a red background) in Liverpool. Baines needed to transport passengers and cargo to Australia and had been impressed by the huge American ships. Lightning was powerfully and heavily constructed to handle the heavy seas and storms of the Australian run. Only the finest materials went into her construction. She cost ₤30,000 to build, and Baines put in another ₤2,000 in interior decoration, adding fine woods, marble, gilding and stained glass. It is said that her rooms rivaled those of the later "Queen Mary". An on-ship newspaper called the "Lightning Gazette" was published for the passengers and crew.

After arriving in England, "Lightning"'s hollow bow was ignorantly filled in by her captain Anthony Enright. McKay called the people who did it "the wood butchers of Liverpool". When her captain was changed to Bully Forbes, who drove her mercilessly, often running with the lee rail underwater, the fillings soon washed out. "Lightning" began to set records. Some examples of records are: she crossed from New York to Liverpool in 13 days, 19 ½ hours, she sailed convert|436|mi|km in 24 hours, doing 18 to 18 ½ knots. In 1854-55, she made the passage from Melbourne to Liverpool in 65 days, completing a circumnavigation of the world in 5 months, 9 days, which included 20 days spent in port. [cite book|title=Along the Clipper Way|author=Francis Chichester|page=69|publisher=Hodder & Stoughton|date=1966|isbn=0-340-00191-7]

"Lightning" did a brief stint as a troop ship bringing British soldiers to fight an uprising in India.

"Lightning" caught fire at around 01:00 on 30 October 1869 at Geelong in Australia when fully loaded and ready to sail with 4,300 bales of wool, 200 tons of copper, 35 casks of wine and some tallow. Unable to control the fire the decision was taken at around mid-day to sink her and she was towed out to shoals. The initial attempts were by cannon fire from the shore to try and hole her below the waterline but this was unsuccessful. At about 16:00 some of the crew scuttled her by cutting holes on the waterline and she sank in convert|27|ft|m of water. The shoals became known as "Lightning Shoals".


External links

* [ Sailing Ships: "Lightning"]
* [ Voyage of the Clipper Ship "Lightning" from England to Australia and Back]
* [ "Lightning" data]

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