The clipper ship Light Brigade was launched on 29 March 1854 from the dockyard of James O. Curtis in Medford, Massachusetts. Designed by Samuel Hartt Pook, she was built for Reed, Wade & Co. of Boston for the New York to San Francisco run. 'No expense was spared to make her one of the most perfect and beautiful ships ever built’ wrote one admirer. 'The bow raked boldly forward, flaring gracefully, and was ornamented with a beautiful carved female figure with forks of lighting playing around’.
From 1854 to 1863 she sailed between New York and San Francisco and in 1859-1860, under the command of Captain Little, raced against the Great Republic to win the challenge by completing the distance between the cities in 109 days. Initially named Ocean Telegraph she was sold for £7,060 to the Black Ball Line of James Baines & Co., Liverpool and renamed the Light Brigade. Her principle route for the next ten years was the London to Australia and New Zealand run.