William Motherwell, Scottish poet, antiquary and journalist, was born at Glasgow, the son of an ironmonger.
At the age of fifteen he was apprenticed in the office of the sheriff-clerk at Paisley, and appointed sheriff-clerk depute there in 1819. He spent his leisure in collecting materials for a volume of local ballads which he published in 1819 under the title of The Harp of Renfrewshire. In 1827 he published a further instalment in Minstrelsy Ancient and Modern, prefaced by an excellent historical introduction. He contributed verses to newspapers and magazines, "Jeanie Morrison", "My Heid is like to rend, Willie", and "Wearies Cauld Well" being his best-known poems. He became editor of the Paisley Advertiser in 1828, and of the Glasgow Courier in 1830.
A small volume of his poems was published in 1832, and a larger volume with a memoir in 1846, reissued, with additions, in 1848.
William Motherwell did not know Robert Tannahill, but became very well acquainted with Tannahill's friend and musical collaborator R. A. Smith. It has been suggested that Smith may have encouraged Tannahill's shift from weaving to music, but this has no basis in fact as no such shift ever took place. Tannahill was a weaver from the time he was apprenticed to his father on 7 December 1786 until his death in 1810. It was Smith who sought out the company of Tannahill after hearing one of latter’s songs performed at a musical evening in Paisley.