Dr David Gavine, Scot whose early fascination with sky led to a lifetime gathering knowledge and friends

David Myles Gavine, lecturer and astronomer. Born: 9 May 1937 in Dundee. Died: 2 Jan 2020
David GavineDavid Gavine
David Gavine

David Myles Gavine was born in Dundee, Scotland, on the 9th May 1937, the only child of Thomas Gavine and Mary Chalmers. His father was killed while working as a shipyard joiner when David was only a year old and he was brought up in a large family of aunts and grandparents during the austere war years. His childhood was blighted by periods of severe illness culminating in rheumatic fever which left him bed-ridden for over a year and allowed no exercise of any kind until the age of 13.

His mother, “Molly”, provided him with books and encyclopaedias and he developed skills in model making and art. Using simple star charts he knew the constellations and main stars by the age of 12.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

His poor early health and the repressive primary school he attended did not deter Dave and by the time he started secondary education he had more than made up the earlier loss of schooling.

His secondary education took him to the technical course at Rockwell School where he aspired to become a joiner like his father and other men in his family.

However, science caught Dave’s imagination and so he continued his education at Morgan Academy, where he was fortunate to have had superb teachers, especially in mathematics and science.

He also discovered Dundee’s Mills Observatory, the excellent library and museum. and his astronomical interests were further developed by reading Hutchison’s Splendour of the Heavens. Dave attended evening classes in astronomy given by Dr Jaroslav Cisar, the curator of Mills Observatory at that time.

In 1956 Dave met up with an old school friend, Harry Ford. Harry and Dave had friends who shared an interest in astronomy and the idea of a local astronomical club was born.

This idea was acted upon and Dundee Astronomical Society was formed with Dave’s charismatic physics teacher, Bill Dow, as its first president and Dave as secretary.

This small society, which eventually met in Mills Observatory, Dundee, celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2016 with a BAA Out of London weekend meeting.

Over the years, the Society has grown and has, in its time, produced a number of notable astronomers and scientists including Dr Tom Lloyd-Evans, Dr Niall Reid and Robert McNaught.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dave graduated with a BSc from St Andrews University in 1960 and was awarded the JF Scott prize in Geology. Careers in earth sciences were few then, so he took teacher training and taught science in Dundee junior secondary schools for several years, while being actively engaged in observing the aurora during the International Geophysical Year and beyond.

He went back to study at Aberdeen University, intent on furthering his career, and in 1969 took an MA with second class honours in Geography, supporting himself by part-time teaching. A further year teaching science at Grove Academy, Dundee, was followed by his appointment as a Master at Fort Augustus Abbey School, a small Benedictine school, teaching geography, geology and junior science. From here he ran the village climatology station, started a school astronomy club and set up a small planetarium using a cistern ball projector which he and Harry Ford had made some years earlier.

The planetarium dome was made of cardboard egg boxes and fence wire and was hung from the ceiling of a classroom. Benefactors gifted 6 inch and 11¼ inch reflectors to the club. An active aurora watching network was set up linking Fort Augustus with Dundee and St Andrews and in 1978 Dave became assistant to the Director of the British Astronomical Association’s Aurora Section Director, Ron Livesey.

In 1979 Dave was offered a lectureship at Leith Nautical College in Edinburgh which involved teaching navigational astronomy and meteorology, and was in charge of the fine GOTO planetarium which became popular with school pupils, teachers and many other groups.

This continued after the Nautical College closed in 1987 when it became a further education college in which Dave taught mathematics and science. He retired in 1995 and continued for a few years to offer evening classes in astronomy, geology and meteorology. Dave had run GCE O-level astronomy classes in Dundee and Fort Augustus prior to those in Edinburgh.

He joined the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh, served as president for three years, introduced a Journal and edited it for 20 years. He was awarded the Lorimer Medal for a lifetime of promoting astronomy and invited to become President of Dundee Astronomical Society in 1979.

Dave was a member of the Society for the History of Astronomy, the Royal Meteorological Society, the British Sundial Society and the Geological Society of Edinburgh. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1963.

From joining the British Astronomical Association in 1955 Dave was primarily an observer of aurora and noctilucent clouds but contributed from time to time to the Meteor, Lunar, Variable Star and Historical Sections.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He was assistant director to Ron Livesey and Ken Kennedy of the Aurora Section for some 30 years and director from 2005 to 2010. He was awarded the Lydia Brown Medal in 2003. In May 2012, asteroid 7120 was named Davidgavine by its discoverer Robert McNaught in recognition of Dave’s contribution to astronomy.

An interest in the history of astronomy in Scotland, especially in the activities of forgotten luminaries such as Thomas Dick became, as he put it, “a hobby that got out of hand”.

He was encouraged to carry out serious research by his friend Professor Eric Forbes, who became his supervisor. Nine years of part-time research in archives all over Britain resulted in the award of Scotland’s first Open University PhD in 1982, on Astronomy in Scotland 1745-1900.

Dave enjoyed classical music, zany humour and cartoons (many drawn by his own hand), walking all over Scotland and holidaying in England, Europe and Canada.

He never drove a car and never married, despite having several lady companions about whom Ron Livesey would joke.