Lightning was one of the last very 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. She had 16 feet (4.9 m.) of concavity in her bows and was fast yet stable with good sail-carrying ability. Measured at 2084 tons, she was 277 feet in length with a 44 foot beam.
When Lightning was built in 1854 in Boston, America's extreme clipper boom was on the wane. However, the Australian gold rush was in full force and Baines needed to transport passengers and cargo to Australia and had been impressed by the huge American ships. Lightning was heavily constructed to handle the heavy seas of the Australian run. She cost £30,000 to build and it was said that her rooms rivaled those of the later Queen Mary. She set several records and in 1854-55, she made the passage from Melbourne to Liverpool in 65 days.
On 30 October 1869, she caught fire 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. Attempts to control the fire were unsuccessful, and the decision was taken to sink her.