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As might be expected from the name, Glen Line's origins are to be found in Scotland. The Gow and McGregor families set themselves up in Glasgow during the mid 1850's as cargo and voyage brokers. It would appear that they worked closely together to ensure full cargoes with the Gow's doing the chartering and the McGregor's putting together the freight.

Advertisements show that in 1860 ALAN C.GOW, whose interests lay in steam and machine technology, was acting as a voyage broker in partnership with James McGregor who, at the same time, was still engaged in business on his own account. Seven years later, in 1867, Alan Gow had the sailing ship Estrella de Chile built for trading to Chile via Cape Horn. Due to its proximity to industrial Lancashire, Liverpool became a leading centre for imports and exports and Gow's ship operated initially on a Glasgow-Liverpool-South America route.

The 'Glen' prefix first emerged when the barque Glenavon was acquired in 1868. By this time a formal partnership had been entered into with the McGregor's as the ownership was under the name Alan C Gow & Co. With Alan C. Gow as manager, the Glenavon was destined for the China tea trade but, since this trade was seasonal and one way, she went to Chile in the first instance before crossing the Pacific to China.

In 1869 the sailing ship Glenaray joined the fleet and the company began to advertise their services as 'Glen Line'. The routing of the Glenaray differed from that of the other two vessels inasmuch that she went directly to the Far East where profits were greater and, being largely under the British flag, more politically stable than South America.

When the Suez Canal opened in 1869 Alan Gow and James Mcgregor did not 'sit back and wait' like many other companies operating ships to the Far East but took the initiative and placed an order, at a cost of £25,700, for a ship to compete in the China tea trade, the Glengyle. At the same time, as the tea commodity trade was centred in London, the company moved its base accordingly and Glen Line remained there for the rest of its existence.


The Glengyle joined the fleet in 1870 and was profitable from the start even though steamships were comparatively small and the coal consumption of compound engines high. The compound engine had only been in service for five years, since Alfred Holt had installed them in the Agememnon trio for the Far East route. The Glengyle completed the voyage from China an 50 days as compared with the best time of George Thompson's sailing clipper Thermopylae's 91 days. The Glengyle wasn't faster; it was the Suez Canal that made all the difference. However, the scene had been set and plans for expansion were prepared which involved the raising of additional working capital. To facilitate the expansion programme ALAN C.GOW & COMPANY was formed with James McGregor responsible for steamship activities. With the appropriate funding in place orders were placed with the London & Glasgow Engineering & Iron Shipbuilding Co. (London & Glasgow Co.), the builders of their first steamship, for five sister ships.

In the end fifteen similar ships were built during a 23 year period but the first out of the shipyard was the Glenroy in 1871 followed by four more over the next three years after which the company had nine ships including two which were under sail.

The record for the China tea run was being beaten on a regular basis and in 1874 the Glenartney completed the voyage from Foochow to London in 44 days although her best time was 41 days achieved some years later. Also in 1874 James McGregor transferred the remainder of his activities into the partnership but the name remained and, with this, the company began to operate sailings from New York to the Far East.

Through its life the company was never one which went in for acquiring second hand ships but in 1876 it purchased the Glenorchy which had been built by John Elder for Dutch owners. Designed for the Far East trade she was wider in the beam than those built by London & Glasgow, which meant a greater cargo carrying capacity. With her the steam fleet was now eight which enabled the company to provide a monthly sailing on a three and a half month round voyage.


The only four master in the fleet, the Gleneagles, was built by London & Glasgow & Co. in 1877 and, being an extented version of her earlier sisters, was, for the first time, advertised as having passenger accommodation. All the company's ships had carried passengers in the past but usually only local business people and shipping agents and their families.

The Far East Conference, initiated by John Swire of the China Navigation Co., was set up in 1879 with Shire and Glen Lines as members. The Conference concentrated on stabilising freight rates on the UK-China and Japan-UK. Up until the Conference was formed the principle was that freight rates, which could fluctuate even as the ship was loading, would only be fixed at the time of departure which could lead to loss making voyages.

By 1880 James McGregor had become the senior partner and to recognise this the name was changed to McGREGOR, GOW & COMPANY but everybody now knew the company as Glen Line and even advertisements in Lloyd's List and the Journal of Commerce promoted 'Glen Line to the Far East'. The company's aim by now was to increase the speed of its ships and, in 1882, the two funnelled vessel, Glenogle, joined the fleet. Costly to build she had a service speed of 15 knots which made her capable of completing the run from China in 31 days. In addition, she also carried passengers in direct competition with P&O's twin funnelled ships, the Clyde built in 1881 being the first of eight. Thomas Skinner introduced the Stirling Castle on the same route in 1881 but, as there was now an over capacity of passenger ships, he was nearly bankrupted and had to sell in 1883. The management of Glen Line had second thoughts, cancelled further orders, and reverted back to the tried and tested three masted ships but, as they had come to realise that passengers provided good revenues, they increased the passenger accommodation in First and Second class.

In 1883 the Glengarry was the first of a new class of five ships built by London & Glasgow Co. with increased passenger accommodation and the company had its first loss, as a shipowner, in 1884 when the Glenelg was wrecked.

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