Royal Dane began life as the American clipper ship Sierra Nevada and it was nine years before she was sold into British registry and assumed her second name.
Built by Tobey & Littlefield at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, she was launched on 19th May 1854 as the largest ship ever to take to the waters of the Piscataqua River up to that date. Ordered for Glidden & Williams of Boston, she was registered at 1,942 tons American (1,616 British) and measured 230 feet in length with a 44½ foot beam. Originally carrying an Indian warrior figurehead and with an oval stern ornamented with an eagle on the wing, she had spacious accommodation for both her officers as well as passengers and "was furnished with every convenience of the day." Captain Penhallow, her master for her first four years, had been appointed to oversee her construction and the overall result of his vigilance was a ship "easy in motion, stiff, and an excellent carrier of sail".
Entering service in July 1854, her first voyage to Liverpool in April 1855 proved a disaster; she lost her figurehead and bowsprit in a collision on the way over and then grounded on the sill when entering the Wellington Dock which broke her back. Sold by her owners when their case against the dock owners became bogged down in the British courts, she was eventually repaired and returned to sea in November 1855, making it back to New York in an unremarkable 25 days despite taking only 6 days from the Lizard to the Newfoundland Grand Bank. After Captain Foster took over her command in 1859 she turned in a succession of notably fast passages, including 97 days from Boston to San Francisco and then 98 days home to New York on the return trip, both runs via Cape Horn where bad weather delayed her on each leg of the journey. Despite being nearly wrecked in dense fog whilst beating out of San Francisco in April 1862, these good runs continued until December that year when she docked in London pending sale due to her owners' financial problems caused by the American Civil War. She was one of many fine U.S. vessels sold for similar reasons and this exodus from American registry soon became known as "the flight from the flag."
In March 1863, the Sierra Nevada was sold to Mackay & Baines for their Black Ball Line of Australian packets for £10,750 and renamed Royal Dane by her new owners. An immediate success thanks to her speed and steadiness, Mackay & Baines had converted her large holds into cabins and when she left London on 30th July 1870, under Captain Bolt, she had 497 passengers aboard such was her reputation. Despite her popularity, her career as an emigrant ship proved a short one however and, as steam began to oust the sailing packets, she was sold to J.P. Foulkes of London for more prosaic cargo-carrying duties. By 1875 she was owned by John Harris of London and relegated to the lucrative but utilitarian guano trade in which, two years later, she was wrecked off the coast of Chile when homeward bound for Liverpool.