A History of Nearly Everything

The Great Rise & Fall of Sir Gavin Hawkly-Longfarthing (1922-1966)

Explorer, Inventor, Cosmologist, Professor, Tenor, Liar, Rogue Scholar

Tower Foyer Gallery

Tower Building, University of Dundee

10 October - 28 November 2015

Mon-Fri 09.30-19.00 Sat 13.00-17.00

portrait by John Macdonald AikenSir Gavin Hawkly-Longfarthing was perhaps the most prolific Scotsman of all time, though his work has largely been forgotten by both historians and the general public no doubt due largely to his fractious relationship with the University (then Queen’s College, Dundee).

Born to a family of peat farmers on the island of Taransay in the Outer Hebrides, Hawkly-Longfarthing’s talent was spotted early on at a science fair in Stornoway when he built a working bi-plane out of driftwood and old lorry parts. After fighting Rommel in North Africa during WWII and rising all the way to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Hawkly-Longfarthing would make the unlikely leap into academia after the war, graduating from the University of St Andrews in one year in 1946 with a triple degree in theology, physiology, and philosophy. His work quickly extended to nearly all realms of science, including botany, molecular biology, nuclear physics, cosmology, geology, entomology, trichology, spermology, kymatology, microphilosophy, thermology, caliology, methodology, and mixology. He was a brilliant shot, an ace at billiards, and possessed a voice that ‘could make the angels weep with jealousy.’ His lifelong project was to develop a coherent scheme with which to organize and describe the existing universe, and those most qualified to judge such work have often said Hawkly-Longfarthing, of all theoreticians before or since, was closest to arriving at an answer.

His obvious brilliance was clouded by the multiple controversies that surrounded him wherever he went. A regular at both the Royal Society of London as well as the Dundee Jailhouse on West Bell Street, Hawkly-Longfarthing, left a trail of seduction, envy, and fury in his wake. He spent much of his time travelling the globe in the tradition of Darwin, searching for the missing pieces in his master plan. The College came close to firing him on numerous occasions, including after a particularly sordid incident in which one of his assistants was mauled by his pet leopard, but his extraordinary discoveries always outweighed his deviance—until his untimely and mysterious death in the Congo in 1966, barely a month after he was knighted for his work developing a rubella vaccine. This is the first ever comprehensive retrospective of Sir Hawkly-Longfarthing’s work as many of his personal effects were misfiled due to a clerical error in 1972.

October 2015 (dubbed “The Month of Gavin”) will see numerous lectures, colloquia, debates, panel discussions, round tables, films, performances, radio dramas, puppet shows, and silent retreats as we struggle to locate his rightful place in history. These will begin on Monday 19 October at 5.30pm with a special private view of the exhibition with exclusive readings of Sir Gavin's recently decoded correspondence - all welcome.

This exhibition draws on rarely seen material in the University of Dundee Museum Collections and has been curated by author Reif Larsen.

Click here to see a selection of artefacts from the exhibition.



A publication has been published inspired by the exhibition, written by Reif Larsen. It costs £4 - click here to purchase.


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