Macgregor Laird (1808–1861)
On leaving school in Edinburgh he was given a partnership in his father's business.
c.1830 Fired by enthusiasm arising from the discovery of the mouth of the River Niger, he left his father's firm to form the African Inland Company. Richard Lander joined him.
1832 Macgregor established his own shipyard on the Liverpool bank of the Mersey estuary. He built two paddle-wheel steamers, designed to make the ocean voyage to West Africa as well as navigating the shallow waters of the Niger. One of these ships, the Alburkah, 55 tons, was the first vessel constructed entirely of iron to complete an ocean voyage.
The voyage up the Niger was a disaster; of the 48 white men who began the venture in 1832, only nine survived when it ended in 1834. This experience dissuaded him from going back to Africa. He became an activist for the rights of African peoples.
1837 Laird was one of the founders of the British and North American Steam Navigation Co (sic), whose vessel the Sirius made the first completely steam-powered Atlantic crossing in 1838.
Laird took out a number of patents concerning steam ships
1849 Macgregor Laird (a commission agent of Birkenhead) was bankrupt
By 1850 he had moved from Birkenhead to London.
1851 Laird decided to concentrate again on west Africa. He asked the British government for help.
1852 Laird was awarded a mail contract to West Africa for 10 years with subsidies from the British Government. He set up the African Steamship Co.
He was an ardent evangelist and opponent of the slave trade.
1854 Laird made another attempt to sail up the Niger (and the Benue), which was successful.
1857 he gained a contract to send a steamer up the Niger annually but in 1859 the steamer was attacked.
1861 Died in Surrey. Later the African Steamship Co was sold on to Elder Dempster and Co. This company is widely regarded as the greatest trading company to have done business with West Africa during this period.
Sources of Information
- The Times, Nov 10, 1849
- Biography of Macgregor Laird, ODNB