Macgregor Laird lived from 1808 to 9 January 1861. He was a merchant who did much to open up the River Niger in Africa as a trade route. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Macgregor Laird was born in Greenock, the younger son of William Laird, founder of a Birkenhead shipbuilding firm. In 1831, explorers Richard Lemon Lander and John Lander published details of the course of the River Niger in West Africa, and the following year Macgregor Laird and a number of Liverpool merchants agreed to try to develop the commercial possibilities of the area. An expedition was mounted, and Macgregor Laird sailed with 48 Europeans led by Richard Lander on two small ships, one being the paddle-steamer Alburkah, designed and built by Laird's father.
When the expedition returned to Liverpool in 1834, Laird was one of only three survivors. The remainder of the expedition's members had died of various diseases or, in the case of Richard Lander, wounds. In 1837 Macgregor Laird and R.A.K. Oldfield published their Narrative of an Expedition into the Interior of Africa by the River Niger in 1832, 1833, 1834. Laird then turned his attention to using the knowledge he had gained to establish trade links with what is now known as Nigeria, partly because of his belief that to do so would undermine the slave trade. In 1854 Laird gained British government support for annual a further expedition along the River Niger in the small steamship, the Pleiad, undertaken by a group of explorers including William Balfour Baikie. The eventual result was the establishment of a series of trading stations along the river.
Macgregor Laird also developed other interests. In 1837 he a founded company to run steamships between Liverpool and New York. The following year his ship the SS Sirius became the first ship to cross the Atlantic entirely under steam power. Macgregor Laird died in London in 1861.