William Davidson Niven

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Sir William Davidson Niven KCB FRS (1842 – 29 May 1917) was a 19th-century mathematician and electrical engineer. After an early teaching career at Cambridge, he was Director of Studies at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, for thirty years.


Royal Naval College, Greenwich

Niven was born at Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, one of five notable mathematician brothers. He graduated first from the University of Aberdeen,[1] then from Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was a Wrangler and was elected a Fellow of his college. He spent most of his teaching career as Director of Studies at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, succeeding Thomas Archer Hirst in that position in 1882.[2] He was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (Civil division) in Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Honours of 1897. He retired in 1903, when he was knighted by being appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.[2]

Niven was a colleague of James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879), whose scientific papers he edited after his death, and influenced the development of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), to whom he taught mathematics, by instructing him in the physics of Maxwell.[3]

In retirement Niven lived at Eastburn, Sidcup, Kent,[2] where he died in 1917.[1]

Major publications[edit]

  • A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism
  • The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell


  1. ^ a b Ronny Desmet, Michel Weber, Whitehead. The Algebra of Metaphysics (2010), p. 116
  2. ^ a b c 'NIVEN, Sir William Davidson', in Who Was Who 1916–1928 (London: A. & C. Black, 1992 reprint, ISBN 0-7136-3143-0)
  3. ^ Frank Northen Magill, Alison Aves, Dictionary of World Biography (1999), p. 3,965