On March 16, James Hector was born in Edinburgh, Scotland.
His father was a lawyer and writer, a friend of Sir Walter Scott, for whom he would transcribe and translate old manuscripts.
His mother was a niece of Dr. Barclay, founder of the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh and teacher of medicine.
He would later attend Edinburgh Academy and High School.
At 14 he started articling as an actuary at his father's office.
Having developed an interest in natural science he gave up office work and entered the University of Edinburgh as a medical student. Taking medicine was the only way he could get the science courses he wanted. During his training, geology claimed the largest share of his time, his holidays being devoted to long walking expeditions in search of geological and botanical specimens.
Received his medical degree (MD).
Hector was selected by Sir Roderick Murchison, Director General of the Geological Survey of Great Britain to be surgeon and geologist with the Palliser scientific expedition to western Canada.
He reached Lake Superior in June and travelling west he mapped and named many of the physical features and described the geology, noting deposits of coal and other occurrences of possible economic value.
In January he arrived at Rocky Mountain House where he saw the Rockies for the first time.
In August he headed into the Rockies in search of passes that could be used for a railway. He mapped and compiled the first scientific study of what is today Banff, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks in the Canadian Rockies.
Many landmarks of the area were named by him on this journey. He discovered five mountain passes, one of which, named the "Kicking Horse Pass" after an accident that nearly cost him his life, is now the route of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
He followed the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean and went on to study coal deposits on Vancouver island and gold fields in California and northern Mexico.
Returned to England, via Panama and the West Indies and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Expedition awarded the Royal Geographical Society's gold medal for geographical discoveries.
He was then offered geological positions in Kashmir, India and Otago, New Zealand.
Taking the New Zealand appointment he spent three years exploring Otago province.
Appointed commissioner of the Dunedin Exhibition and appointed the first Director of the Geological Survey of New Zealand.
Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Set up the New Zealand Institute to accumulate, edit and manage scientific papers.
Received the Order of the Golden Crown from the Emperor of Germany
Made a trip to England and continental Europe.
Received the Order of C.M.G.(Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George) in recognition of his services in America.
The Geological Society awarded him the Lyell Medal.
Represented the New Zealand colony as commissioner at the Philadelphia Centenary Exhibition in United States.
Represented the New Zealand colony as commissioner at the Australian Exhibition in Sydney and the next year Melbourne.
Appointed chancellor of New Zealand University.
For distinquished services, Dr. Hector was Knighted (K.C.M.G.) by Queen Victoria.
Hector was awarded the Founders gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society which was the greatest distinction possible for geographical research.
Returned to Canada to revisit the scene of his explorations.
Sir James Hector died in New Zealand on August 16, 1907.