James Hector (1834-1901) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was educated in Edinburgh, graduating in medicine from the University of Edinburgh in 1856, having taken lectures in botany and zoology, and apparently having gained some training in geology. His potential was recognised by leading Scottish biologists and geologists, and in 1857 he was recommended by Sir Roderick Murchison for the position of surgeon and geologist on John Palliser’s expedition to western Canada. On this expedition Hector established himself as a field geologist, natural historian and explorer, working in rugged conditions and relying on his own resources. For his work in Canada he was elected fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
Then, again on the recommendation of Murchison, he was appointed director of the Geological Survey of Otago, New Zealand, in 1861. In Canada Hector had acquired the belief that in carrying out a geological survey in a largely unknown country the other natural resources should not be neglected. To this end he assembled the nucleus of a staff. W. Skey was engaged to analyse the rocks and minerals, J. Buchanan as a draughtsman and R. B. Gore as clerk. Hector had the ability to use and develop all the talents of people who worked with him. Thus Buchanan was given scope for botanical work and for using his artistic abilities, and Gore carried out meteorological observations and recording.
By September 1862 Hector had explored the eastern districts of Otago, visited Central Otago, and accumulated a collection of 500 specimens of rocks, fossils and minerals. During 1863 he extended his investigations to the West Coast, carrying out a double crossing between Milford Sound and Dunedin, a pioneering effort in exploration and geological reconnaissance. He organised displays of his maps and collections at the New Zealand Exhibition in Dunedin in 1865.
His work in Otago brought his name and talents to the attention of the central government, which was considering the establishment of a colonial geological survey. In negotiations with ministers over his possible appointment as director of such an institution, Hector detailed his ideas on the scope of the survey and the functions of an associated scientific museum and laboratory. His concept was largely accepted and in 1865 he was appointed director of the Geological Survey and Colonial Museum in Wellington. The institutions were established and developed along the lines