Hay and Company Merchants

Hay & Company was the successor of the bankrupt firm Hay & Ogilvy. Both firms comprise part of the history of Hays’ Dock, with a much changed Hay & Company still operating next door.

The records are a large collection, dominated by carefully handwritten ledgers and letter books. It is the Archives’ largest collection of business records. The company prospered throughout the 19th century, in the fishing industry and much else. It had a network of fishing stations. The fish books for Burra and Whalsay, for instance, show the fortunes of crew, boats, and families in those islands.

Both Hay & Comapny and Hay & Ogilvy ran an agency supplying crew to the British whaling effort in the Arctic. We have the ‘Greenland’ ledgers from both firms, a unique record of transactions by crew. Sailors purchased clothing and other goods from the merchants. Sometimes there are letters pinned into the volumes - even one by a seaman ‘pressed’ by the Navy.

Correspondence in the letter books shows the end of the Shetland boat trade with Norway. The many thousands of letters deal with Hay & Company’s diverse trade, coal, timber interests, the part they played in the Faroe fishing, and the management of their shop network.