Argonaut was a composite clipper built at Rotherhithe in 1866 by Thomas Bilbe & Co. for the company's own use. One of the larger clippers employed in the tea trade, she was registered at 1,073 net tons and measured 206.4 feet in length with a 33.2 foot beam. On her maiden voyage she left Foochow with her first cargo of tea on 10th July 1867 and docked in London on 29th October, only 111 days out; this run equalled that year's passage time of the renowned Fiery Cross and was only 8 days longer than that of the legendary Ariel. The next year she returned home in 113 days - Shanghai to London - followed by an even better time of 109 days in 1869. By then she had made a name for herself as a pirate chaser after an amusing incident in the river at Shanghai in 1868 when her signal cannon blew a large hole in the sail of a Chinese warjunk which ran alongside her just as Argonaut was saluting the departing Leander. Although entirely accidental, word soon got around the pirate fraternity that Argonaut was a force to be reckoned with.
Her master, Captain Nicholson, continued to bring her home in excellent times during the early 1870s and in 1872 took a huge gamble by sailing her through the dangerous and largely unsurveyed Paracels one moonlit night in order to gain a few days on his rivals. In 1873, Nicholson loaded 1,465,000 cases of tea and cleared Foochow on 9th August. So anxious was he to run with the westerly monsoon for the maximum time possible that he kept his course too long and ran aground on the Pescadores. Although Argonaut was not seriously damaged, Nicholson was forced to jettison 3,000 cases of tea weighing 300 tons before he could refloat her but still got her home in 111 days. Possibly as a result of this incident Nicholson was replaced by Captain Cameron in 1874 and he, having taken Argonaut out to China in the summer, brought her back in a rather slow passage time of 128 days. Cameron's first voyage proved to be Argonaut's last in the tea trade which by now had been lost to steam. Her owners therefore put her onto the Australian run - her best passage time being the Lizard to Melbourne in 77 days - where she remained until sold to Anderson's of London in 1877. They in turn sold her to Jacob Brothers of London in 1883 and in 1888, whilst bound for Hamburg from Western Australia, she sprang a leak, put into Port Natal for repairs but was condemned and never returned to sea.