Historical information

This sample of wood is from the American clipper ship LIGHTNING was a 3 masted, fully rigged extreme clipper ship. She was commissioned by James Baines, of the Black Ball Line in Liverpool, England, during the time of the Australian Gold Rush for the trade of passengers and cargo between England and Australia. Her cargo listed early consignments of livestock and animals, including rabbits sent to Thomas Austin of Barwon Park, Winchelsea, Victoria.

The LIGHTNING was built in 1854 by shipbuilder Donald McKay, of East Boston, USA. She was described as spacious and comfortable, and one of the smartest ships known.

The LIGHTNING set many speed records for her sea crossings, and became one of the most famous of the racing clippers and one of the fastest ever launched. In 1854, with Captain ‘Bully’ Forbes and Mate ‘Bully’ Bragg, LIGHTNING made the return trip from Melbourne to Liverpool in only 64 days, 3 hours and 10 minutes; a record for all time.

Captain Enright became the new Master of LIGHTNING soon afterwards. He has been described as one of the finest mariners in the Australian trade. One of Captain Enright’s innovations was to publish a ship’s paper called The Lightning Gazette. (Captain Forbes had left to captain the SCHOMBERG.)

In January 1855 Capt. Enright sailed the LIGHTNING from Liverpool with over 700 passengers and returned home carrying gold as her cargo.

In 1857, for a very brief time under Capt. Byrne the LIGHTNING was used as a troop ship, taking British officers and soldiers, stores and ammunition, to fight in India.

In 1859 she then returned to her run between Liverpool and Melbourne, apart from 1867 when she made a special trip between Melbourne and Port Chalmers in New Zealand.

In 1869 the LIGHTNING was sold to Thomas Harrison of Liverpool, and she continued to sail for the Black Ball Line.

Master of LIGHTNING, Captain Henry Jones, sailed her to Geelong in October 1869, and whilst docked, he had her loaded with a cargo of wool, copper, wire, tallow and other goods. At about 1am on 31st October 1869, whilst still docked and fully laden, a fire was noticed on the LIGHTNING. Efforts to extinguished the fire were unsuccessful, so she was towed to the shoals in Corio Bay, where she eventually sank, losing all cargo but no lives. The area is now known as Lightning Shoals.


The LIGHTNING is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register VHR S415. She is historically significant for being one of the fastest wooden ships ever built, the first clipper built in the USA for British owners and being the worst shipping disaster in Geelong's history. It spent its whole career carrying cargo and immigrants from England to Australia.

Physical description

Sample, wooden, varnished, from wreck the Lightning. Has a groove along one edge.