James Hector lived from 16 March 1834 to 6 November 1907. He was a geologist who went on to pursue an eminent scientific career in New Zealand. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
James Hector was born in Edinburgh. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy before going on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. While there he also developed a wide range of interests in geology, botany and zoology. After graduating in 1856 he was recommended by Sir Roderick Murchison, the Director of the UK Geological Survey, to be serve as the geologist on the Palliser Expedition to Canada led by John Palliser.
The expedition set off in 1857 with the remit of exploring new railway routes for the Canadian Pacific Railway and collecting new species of plants. In 1858 they were traversing a high pass in the Canadian Rockies when a packhorse kicked Hector in the chest. He was assumed to be dead, but regained consciousness just before being placed in the grave his colleagues had dug for him. The site of the incident is now known as "Kicking Horse Pass".
Hector's role in the Palliser Expedition was judged to be successful and in 1862 he arrived in Dunedin, New Zealand with a Government remit to conduct a three year geological survey of the south of New Zealand's South Island. The result was a comprehensive assessment of the area's potential for settlement and mineral extraction. In 1865 Hector was asked to establish the Geological Survey of New Zealand, which he did, with a headquarters in Wellington. He also became chief scientific adviser to the colonial government in New Zealand and, in 1868, he married Maria Georgiana Monro, the daughter of the Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives.
Hector went on to run New Zealand's most important scientific society, the New Zealand Institute, for a total of 45 years, and in 1885 he became Chancellor of the University of New Zealand. He retired from public life in 1903, having for decades controlled almost every aspect of state-funded science. He was not above criticism, especially for his policy of gathering Maori artefacts for the Colonial Museum, but, without doubt, he made a lasting impression on his adopted country. He died in 1907 near Wellington in New Zealand.