|Activity||William Hay (I) (1723-1804), merchant in the parish of Yell, Shetland, was the son of James Hay of Netherinch, in the parish of Kilsyth, Stirlingshire. He came to Shetland in 1737, aged 14, and in 1743 got a tack of land in the parish of Unst, before setting up as a fish curer and merchant in mid-Yell (1743), next on Papa Stour (1761), and finally at West Sandwick in Yell (c 1774). According to different authorities William married Janet Smith (b. 1723) in 1748, and/or Margaret Niven, daughter of Charles Niven of Windhouse. In either event James Hay (I) (1750-1831), was his eldest son, who, on finishing at school in 1766, was apprenticed to Sandeman of Luncarty, near Perth, to learn the linen trade. He returned to Shetland in 1770 and started a bleachfield and weaving factory near Catfirth, in the parish of Nesting. This enterprise had failed by 1776 and James Hay turned instead to fishery, and then built up a considerable trade in the import of timber from Norway and the export of dried salt fish to the continent in the period 1777-1790. He was also apprehended for smuggling Dutch gin into Shetland. In or about 1804 he built a stone jetty and warehouse in Lerwick, where he operated as James Hay & Sons. He also bought the property of Laxfirth, in the parish of Tingwall. Hay married Anne, daughter of Andrew Umphray of Reawick, in 1785 and they had four children: William, Andrew, James, and Mary. Hay suffered bouts of mental ill-health, and was subject to periodic breakdowns from 1784. His activities were gradually confined to shop-keeping in Lerwick, and his son William Hay (II) (1787-1858) helped him from 1804 onwards. James Hay of Laxfirth failed to recovered full health and he took little part in business after 1814. He died in 1831. |
William Hay (II), who acquired property at Hayfield, Lerwick, would not have become a general merchant in Lerwick, it is said, had cirumstances allowed otherwise. For some time he prospered, and his business seems to have reached its peak about 1824. He was then in partnership with Charles Ogilvy (1761-1827) and his sons John and Charles, the firm being known as Hay & Ogilvy, established in 1822. The Shetland Bank was established in 1821, run by the same partners to start with, though John Ogilvy retired in 1830. The bank finances and those of Hay & Ogilvy were not kept separate; the mercantile firm's books were not balanced after 1834; William Hay ignorant of the true situation, kept buying land with money that was not strictly available, and in 1842 the firm of Hay & Ogilvy went bankrupt. The firm by then owed the bank more than £31,000.
Following the collapse of their import and export company, the families of both partners re-established themselves independently in business. William Hay (Junior) & Co. was formed by the sons of William Hay, William younger and Charles (1815-1892), in 1842. The company was appointed factor for the earl of Zetland and developed a business with a wide range of activities, including trading as general merchants, with shops all over Shetland, fish-curers, coal merchants, builders' merchants, suppliers of crofting materials, and shipping agents, and fishing. In 1843 William Hay (II) joined his sons' business, which became thereafter simply Hay & Company, continuing to operate as general merchants. Charles and the younger William withdrew from the business, leaving it in the hands of their father and two brothers, George (d. 1890) and Arthur James Hay (d. 1896). In 1858 William Hay (II) died and the business was carried on by the partnership formed by George and Arthur. George's place in the firm was taken in 1890 by his nephew Alexander Cunningham Hay, who would be left in sole charge of Hay & Co. after Arthur's death six years later.
William Hay (II) married thrice: first, Margaret, daughter of Charles Ogilvy of Seafield in 1811, second, Margaret, daughter of Peter Scott, Clasgow, and third, Isabella, daughter of Revd Andrew Robertson, minister of Inverkeithing. The succession passed through William Hay's third son, Charles Hay (1815-1892), who married, first, Jessie, daughter of John Bruce of Brucefield, Jamaica, and, second, Anne Helen, daughter of Revd Zachary Macaulay Hamilton, minister of Bressay. He was succeeded in turn by his second son Charles Hay (b 1843) who married Sydney, daughter of William Westwood Chagey.