M'Gavin, William (DNB00)

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M'GAVIN, WILLIAM (1773–1832), controversialist, born on 25 Aug. 1773 at Darnlaw, in the parish of Auchinleck, Ayrshire, was third son of James M'Gavin, farmer, by Mary M'Millan, a farmer's daughter of Muir-Kirk, in the same shire. The farm of Darnlaw was the property of James Boswell, Johnson's biographer. Beyond receiving a few weeks' instruction at the village school, he was entirely self-educated. In 1783 his father removed to Paisley, and in 1785 William was bound apprentice to a weaver, but in 1790 he entered the service of John Neilson [q. v.], a well-known Paisley printer and bookseller. During the three years that he remained there he carefully studied English grammar and composition, and obtained some knowledge of science. In 1793 he went to assist his elder brother in the management of a school, of which he soon obtained the sole charge. About 1796 he commenced a small thread business at Paisley, but was unsuccessful. In January 1799 he was engaged as bookkeeper to David Lamb, an American cotton merchant in Glasgow; to whose two sons he at the same time acted as tutor. In 1803, on Lamb's removal to America, the whole management of the business devolved upon him, and on the death of the father he entered in 1813 into partnership with the son.

M'Gavin belonged to the antiburgher communion, and was a member of the congregation of the Rev. James Ramsay, whom he joined about 1800, and subsequently assisted to form an independent or congregational church, occasionally preaching for him. In April 1804 he was regularly ordained Ramsay's co-pastor. He withdrew from the pastorate in 1807, and afterwards became an itinerant preacher and an active director of the various benevolent and religious societies at Glasgow. His business proving unprofitable, M'Gavin was induced to undertake in 1822 the Glasgow agency of the British Linen Company's bank. 1 He died on 23 Aug. 1832. A monument to his memory was erected in the necropolis of Glasgow and at Auchinleck. On 7 Oct. 1805 he married Isabella Campbell of Paisley.

M'Gavin was a genuine philanthropist, quick-tempered, but warm-hearted and open-handed. From 1818 to 1822 he contributed to the 'Glasgow Chronicle' a series of letters on the principal points of controversy between the Roman and reformed churches under the general title of 'The Protestant.' William Eusebius Andrews [q. v.] forthwith started a weekly paper, called 'The Catholic Vindicator,' in reply to 'The Protestant,' but abandoned it after a year. When issued in book form 'The Protestant' formed four large 8vo volumes, and passed through six editions. Some statements contained in it relative to the building of a Roman catholic chapel in Glasgow led to an action for libel at the instance of the officiating priest in April 1821, which resulted in a verdict of 100l. damages being returned against M'Gavin. A public subscription in his favour produced 900l.

M'Gavin wrote also in the 'Glasgow Chronicle' refutations of the principles of Robert Owen of Lanark (1823), and of the views promulgated by William Cobbett in his discreditable 'History of the Protestant Reformation' (1825), both series of letters being afterwards published separately. He took part in the Apocrypha controversy of 1825. In 1826 he published an edition of Knox's 'History of the Reformation,' and subsequently defended the views expressed then in the 'Christian Herald' (1827-9), under the title of 'Church Establishments considered, in a Series of Letters to a Covenanter' (reissued in 8vo). He superintended an edition of John Howie's 'Biographia Scoticana' in 1827 (other editions, 1833–4, 1846, 1858), and wrote an introductory essay to John Brown of Whitburn's 'Memorials of the Nonconformist Ministers of the Seventeenth Century' (1832), besides numerous tracts and books for the young. His posthumous works, with a memoir, were issued in two volumes in 1834.

[Dr. William Reid of Edinburgh's The Merchant Evangelist, 1884; Memoir prefixed to M'Gavin's Posthumous Works; Anderson's Scottish Nation; Watt's Bibl. Brit.]

G. G.