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McGregor, Alexander (1821–1896)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

This is a shared entry with John Gibson McGregor

Alexander McGregor (1821-1896), shipowner and merchant, and John Gibson McGregor (1830-1902), shipbuilder, were the first and third sons of James McGregor (b.1782) and his wife Janet (1798-1862), née Smith. Alexander was born at Paisley, Scotland, sailed from Leith with his parents in the Dunmore and arrived at Hobart Town in February 1831. John Gibson was born at sea and christened at the Cape of Good Hope. The family lived in a cottage in Bathurst Street. The brothers served apprenticeships under the shipwright, John Watson, and then started building small boats on their own account. By 1855 Alexander had acquired the Domain shipyard. He sold it in 1869 to John who had been his foreman.

On 24 June 1847 Alexander had married Harriet Bayley at her home according to the rites of the Church of Scotland. Her brothers were engaged in the whaling trade and Alexander bought shares in their venture. He had a whaling fleet of eight ships by 1857 and maintained them even after whaling declined, claiming that they served 'as the Reformatories of the Colony'. He also started the firm of McGregor, Piesse & Co., general merchants in Elizabeth Street. With business acumen, they bought many ships for exporting whale oil, bluegum timber and wool. Their 'Red Iron' fleet became known in every Australian port as well as London, and was reputed to earn the firm some £8000 a year. By 1875 in Hobart they also had a large warehouse in Salamanca Place and New Wharf.

McGregor represented Hobart in the Legislative Council in 1880-96. Though not very active in debates, he was an acknowledged authority on maritime matters and his advice was respected. Among other subjects he criticized the absence of shipowners on the Marine Board and its method of election, and claimed that the harbourmaster was too arbitrary in making rules. In 1883-84 McGregor, Piesse & Co. had a long correspondence with the premier, W. R. Giblin, for stimulating migration to Tasmania by subsidies to British shipping companies; the government rejected McGregor as the negotiator but his proposal doubled the number of migrants arriving from Britain in the next decade. In his last years McGregor suffered from bouts of dementia, speculating wildly in country land and mining. In 1894 he authorized his agent to sell the Anchor tin mine to English investors for £10,000. He retired next year and transferred the business to his head clerk, Samuel Thomas Kirby. He died on 4 August 1896 at his home, Lenna, Battery Point, leaving an estate of £4364 to his relations.

John Gibson ran the Domain shipyard until he retired in 1890. Among the many ships he built were the Petrel, Helen, Hally Bayley and Loongana, all well known in intercolonial trade. His Harriet McGregor was noted for fast passages on the Hobart-London run. He was also a director of the Tasmanian Fire and Life Insurance Co. for many years and a justice of the peace from 1886. He died on 5 October 1902 at his home in Cross Street, Battery Point, where he had lived for half a century. He was survived by his wife Christina, née Stewart, who died on 21 November 1903, and by two sons and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1879 (105), 1882 (132), 1884 (42)
  • Bulletin, 3 Apr 1880
  • Mercury (Hobart), 6 Aug 1896, 6 Oct 1903
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'McGregor, Alexander (1821–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcgregor-alexander-4095/text6545, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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