Joseph Paton Maclay, first Baron Maclay of Glasgow, was born on 6th September 1857 and was educated in that city before gaining his earliest experience of the shipping business by working as a clerk in several Glasgow shipping offices. His rise to eminence was not meteoric as was the case with many shipowners. He worked as an employee until aged 28 years until he had a certain amount of capital behind him and several backers including shipbuilder Alexander Stephen and marine engine builder Ebenezer Kemp. Kemp later had plans of his own for shipowning on a large scale, but lost his life while bathing at Rothesay before these plans came to fruition. Joseph Maclay started in partnership as shipowner and shipbroker with Walter McIntyre, the 25 year old son of a Glasgow iron merchant.
The financial backing enabled them to begin with six small steamers in 1885 including the new 1,294 gross ton General Gordon completed by Alexander Stephen in September of that year at a low cost due to depressed freight rates. This association between builder and owner was to last for 50 years. The 712 ton Edward Williams was purchased from Robertson & Ross of Glasgow and Ivanhoe, Nigel, Peveril and Rowena were purchased on the takeover of G. Hood & Co. of Glasgow in 1885. The new partners wisely kept to tramping and brokerage and made no attempt to run liner services.
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