William Niven
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(Click here If you are looking for images of tombstones) In the old churchyard of Maybole, on the site once occupied by the Parish Church, there stands a small granite tombstone, bearing the following inscription :—" In memory of William Niven of Kirkbride, deceased 18th Nov., 1844, aged 85; and of his wife, Isabella C. Niven, deceased 15th Feb., 1841, aged 68. Their mortal remains are laid here." [The Ayr Advertiser of 19th Dec., 1844, says Mr Niven died on 13th Dec., in his 83d year.]

The chief public interest attaching to Mr Niven now is that he was a schoolfellow of Burns at Kirkoswald. After leaving school, Niven was taken home to assist his father in business, but his early friendship with Burns was not forgotten, and when the first edition of our Bard’s poems was published, Niven disposed of seven copies for him, price £1 is. Burns was grateful, and came to Maybole to receive the money. He lodged in the King’s Arms, and it is traditionally reported that his hire of a horse to take him home was the first hire he ever indulged in. A short time after, he sent the following letter to Mr Niven (original in possession of Mr Rennie, Union Bank) :— 

"To Mr William Niven, Merchant, Maybole, care of Thomas Piper, Surgeon, to be left at Dr Charles’s shop, Ayr.—Mossgiel, 30th Aug., 1786. My dear Friend, I have been very throng ever since I saw you, and have not got the whole of my promise performed to you; but you know the old proverb, ‘The break o’ a day ‘s no the break o’ a bargain.’ ‘Have patience with me and I will pay you all.’ 

"I thank you with the most heartfelt sincerity for the worthy knot of lads you introduced me to. Never did I meet with so many congenial souls together, without a dissonant jar in the concert. To all and each of them, make my most friendly compliments, particularly ‘Spunkie, youthful Tammie.’ Remember me in the most respectful manner to Bailie and Mrs Niven, Mr Dun (Parish School-master), and the two truly worthy old gentlemen I had the honour of being introduced to on Friday; although I am afraid the conduct you forced me on may make them see me in a light I would fondly think I do not deserve. 

"I will perform the rest of my promise soon; in the meantime, remember this—never blaze my songs among the million, as I would abhor to hear every prentice mouthing my poor performances in the streets. Every one of my Maybole friends is welcome to a copy if they chuse; but I wish them to go no farther. I mean it as a small token of my respect for them—a respect as sincere as the prayers of dying saints.—I am ever, my dear William, your oblidged, ROBT. BURNS."

 Mr Niven, by dint of enterprise and extreme frugality, amassed the large fortune of £100,000 (it is said), with which he purchased the estate of Kirkbride, in the parish of Kirkmichael, and became the great man of Maybole in his day. He ruled the town so completely that a stamp of his foot at any time would clear the street. An Irishman, who had been employed at his lime-works on Auchalton, thus expressed pointedly, though somewhat profanely, the general appreciation of him :—" Well, Paddy, when you go home to your own country, who will you say gave you employment here ? "—" Sir," said Pat, "I will say he was the Lord God of Maybole, and master of all the limekilns in sight!" 

His parsimony was extreme. When entertaining a party to dinner, he would look round the table at dessert time, and say—" Wha ‘s for cheese ?—I ‘m for nane," which generally prevented any one from asking a supply. The very number of potatoes required for dinner were said to be daily counted out. He was very fond, too, of getting people to work to him for nothing, and then saying to them in a confidential whisper—"I’ll mind you for this, some day "—which he never did. 

His avarice grew with his years. On his deathbed he remarked to a friend, "I think if I were spared other two years, I would be independent"—shewing that with him, too, wealth meant a little more. He was agent for Hunters and Company’s Bank, but rarely discounted a Bill to anyone without having five or six names to it, and a substantial purchase made from his shop beside. And once, on a friend remarking to him—" Mr Niven, Providence has been kind to you," he coolly replied—" Providence, Sir, had naething to dae wi ‘t: I did it a’ mysel’." 

One of the most affecting relics of him is a small bow window he got built in his garden wall behind the Tolbooth, at which, in his old days, he used to sit and gaze through a telescope at his estate of Kirkbride. Poor old body, with all his riches and pomposity, it came low enough with him at last! He got his windows smashed at the Reform Bill time; and finally died, as Attie Hughes expressed it, "wid the consint of the whole town;" while those who succeeded to his property cared so little, apparently, for his memory, that had it not been for a reminder in my first lecture on Maybole, it is probable he would not, even yet, have had a stone to mark his grave.

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