The second son of John Niven by his wife Janet Spear, William Niven was born in Maybole, where he spent almost his whole life. His father, a shopkeeper, also owned the small neighbouring farm of Kirklandhill. William apparently received some assistance up the ladder of fortune from Hugh Hamilton of Pinmore, a director of the bank of Hunters and Company (founded by James Hunter, who had been cashier in Douglas, Heron and Company's bank, whose collapse in 1773 had ruined so many Ayrshire men), though the precise nature of the assistance - 'sterling and friendly patronage', Niven later called it is not clear. At any rate, he became the bank's Maybole agent, and in due course a Partner. In 1792, he was co-opted on to the Town Council of Maybole, and a year or two later built himself a new house on the south side of the High Street. In September 1798 he married Isabella Christian Goudie, the daughter of a deceased merchant of Kingston, Jamaica, who, contrary to legend, died a far from rich man. In June 1799 Niven managed to complete the purchase of the farm of Kirkbride, and two other small properties, apparently with something of a struggle, borrowing £3000 from Hunters and Company with 'the two markland of Kirkbride' as security. Niven's business in Maybole flourished. He acquired more property, and continue to play a leading part in Town Council affairs.
Sir James Fergusson (in The White Hind and Other Discoveries) quotes a contemporary reference to Niven's civic activities:
'The town of Maybole has also of late been much improved. Access to it was formerly inconvenient and difficult, but by the exertions of Mr Niven of Kirkbride who has always taken the greatest interest in the improvement of his native place, the streets have been opened by spacious roads to and from all quarters.'
Niven became a Deputy Lieutenant for Ayrshire in 1810.
Mrs Niven died in 1841, and Niven died just over three years later. They had no children. His portrait, by an unknown artist, now hangs in Maybole Town House.
The earliest letters from Burns's pen are addressed to Niven, whom Burns had met at Kirkoswald. Niven maintained in later life, against all probability and with no documentary evidence to back up his claim, that Burns's 'Epistle to a young Friend', dedicated to Andrew Hunter Aiken, had originally been dedicated to him.
From: The Burns Encyclopedia.at www.robertburns.org