Voyage of the Clipper Ship Lightning from England to Australia and Back.

Having furnished the draught and particulars of this Boston built ship, it is only fair to place on record some of her remarkable performances, an account of which we quote as follows from a Liverpool commercial paper:

Extraordinary run of the Lightning.

Liverpool, Oct. 23, 1855.

A few days ago we recorded the extraordinary run of the clipper ship Red Jacket, Reed, commander, belonging to the White Star line of Australia packets, which made the passage hence to Melbourne in 69½ days, and homeward in 73½ days. We have now the pleasure of chronicling the still more extraordinary performance of the rival clipper Lightning, Forbes (late of the Marco Polo) commander, belonging to the Black Ball line. This vessel, on her recent passage to Melbourne, was delayed by light and head winds, and consequently, made a comparatively long run of nearly 78 days; but, on the passage home, Captain Forbes has shown what the Lightning is capable of doing under moderately favorable circumstances, by making the run in the unparalleled short space of 63 days -- thus regaining the supremacy which had been snatched from him by Captain Reed.

The Lightning has brought upwards of 80 passengers and 40,000 ounces of gold, besides a large amount of in the hands of the passengers. She also brings answers to letters taken out by the Great Britain, making the course of post 132 days.

The Lightning sailed hence on the 14th day of May, and has made the voyage out and home, including the detention of 20 clear days at her anchors in Hobson's Bay, in 5 months 8 days and 21 hours, mean time, from passing the Rock Light till she was back in the river again; thus performing the voyage in upwards of three days less time than the Red Jacket, notwithstanding that she was at anchor in Hobson's Bay for a period of five days more than that vessel.

The Lightning anchored opposite Sandridge, three miles from Melbourne, on the afternoon of the 31st of July, and her mails were delivered, after she had anchored at the Post-office, Melbourne, at half-past five o'clock in the afternoon of that day.

The time occupied by the Lightning in making the round voyage to Australia and back, considering her detention in port, is unprecedentedly short, notwithstanding that the outward voyage, from the nature of the winds experienced, occupied longer than might have reasonably been expected from the well known qualifications of the ship and the ability of her commander. Her run from the Mersey to the Equator occupied 25 days, and from the parallel of the Cape to the Port Phillip Heads 30 days; indeed, such was the nature of the winds, that the topgallantsails never had occasion to be furled during the entire passage, neither was there occasion to reef the topsails. With the exception of five days, when the ship logged 332, 348, 300, 311, and 329 knots respectively per day, no extra-ordinary distances were logged. Cape Otway Light was made on the night of the 29th of July, Port Phillip Heads on the 30th, and she cast anchor, as above stated, in Hobson's Bay, on the 31st, her run having occupied 77½ days, mean time.

On the 20th of August, the mails and passengers being embarked, and everything ready for sea, the anchor was hove up, and the Lightning was taken in tow by the steamer Washington as far as the Heads, which she passed at 4 P.M., a smart north-west breeze blowing at the time, and by noon of the 21st, 268 miles were logged, Swan Island Light, Banks' Straits, having been passed at 11 A.M. On the 24th, 4 A.M., she passed a large ship supposed to be the Mermaid, which sailed two days previously for Liverpool; and at 10 P.M. same day, passed the Auckland Islands. Thence to the 28th, when the ship was in lat. 57.20 S., long. 164 W., fresh westerly and south-westerly breezes were experienced and the ship went nobly along, seldom logging less than 14, and frequently 18½ and 19 knots an hour.

At 11 P.M. on the 28th, while under a heavy press of canvas, a violent squall from the south-west caught the ship, and carried away the foretopmast studdingsail-boom, the foretop, foretopgallant, and foreroyal yards, and blowing all the sails to pieces, and the ship was obliged to go under easy canvas for the succeeding four days until the yards and sails had been replaced. From the first to the 8th of September fine westerly winds were experienced, and the ship averaged close upon 300 miles per day, as per log. On the 8th, at 3 A.M., Cape Horn bore north-west, distant 50 miles, being a run of only 19 days mean time from Port Phillip Heads, by far the fastest ever recorded either under canvas or steam. On the 10th, 11th, and 12th, north-east, east, and south-east winds were experienced, and but moderate distances were logged, the ship having to be frequently tacked to make a fair-way course. On the 13th and 14th, strong and south-west winds were experienced, and she ran 351 and 354 miles per day respectively. From the 15th to the 20th light and head winds were met with, and only from six to seven knots per hour averaged. On the 20th she was in lat. 29.13 S., long. 31.40 W., and thence to Pernambuco, which port was passed at a distance of six miles, on the morning of the 28th, nothing but light north-east and north-north-east winds were experienced.

The Equator was crossed at 9 A.M. on the 30th, in long. 34.30 W., the ship at the time being only out a little over 40 days mean time from Port Phillip -- an extraordinary achievement, considering the adverse winds encountered after rounding Cape Horn. For the first five days after crossing the Equator light winds and calms were met with, accompanied by heavy torrents of rain, and the ship made little or no progress. On the 5th, in lat. 10 N., long. 34 W., gentle north-east trade winds were experienced, which continued until the 10th, in lat. 30 N., long. 37 W. On the 11th and 12th she had moderate south-east winds, and at noon of the latter day was in the latitude of St. Michael's and long. 30 W., being only 4 months and 29 days out from the time of leaving Liverpool. From the 12th to the 19th the winds were east-north-east and north-east, very light, and during the intervening seven days the ship reached lat. 46.15 N., long 28 W., and at 10 P.M. on the 19th a strong northerly breeze sprang up, which continued until her arrival off the Old Head of Kinsale, at 4 A.M., yesterday. At 10 A.M., off Mine Head, signals were exchanged with the Royal Mail steamship Arabia, hence for New-York; at 3.30 P.M. Tuskar Light was passed; at 8.30 P.M. Holyhead Light was passed; and at 10.30 P.M. the ship was abreast Point Lynas, where she received a pilot. The ship was kept under easy sail during the night, waiting a sufficiently of water to cross the bar, and arrived in the river 9.30 this morning.

Notwithstanding the performance of this vessel, there existed in the minds of the nautical fraternity a positive denial of the principles of construction developed in her model; and while it had been made quite manifest to her constructor that even a better distribution of the propulsory power might have been made, it was quite sufficient for the English builders to know this, when they have a pretext for endeavoring to cripple the original design, and succeeded in persuading the owners to fill out those hollow lines on the bows, so much at variance with their notions of propriety: accordingly the bow was filled out until a convex line was obtained, and this was done in a manner which is not mechanical, the fillings being of soft pine, and the connection being such as to leave the vessel leaky; and now, before the vessel had established a reputation, the English mechanics were quite willing to attribute any subsequent performance worthy of note to their modifications of the fineness of her lines on the anterior part, which is but an incubus at best, as the spar draft, in connection with the lines, will prove, and abundantly pay for the investigation, and show the centre of propulsion to be too far forward of the centre of buoyancy.

The U.S. Nautical Magazine, Vol. III (1855-56), pp 291-392.

Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius.

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Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.