James Hector in his early 30s

James Hector in his early 30s

Sir James Hector, about 1892

Sir James Hector, in his 50s

James Hector, Te Papa's founding director

Sir James Hector was internationally renowned as a geologist and explorer who died a hundred years ago this month. He was the first Director of the Colonial Museum and Geological Survey (Te Papa's predecessor) and held this position for almost 40 years. He could be considered the founding father of Te Papa and its partner GNS Science.

From Scotland to New Zealand

Hector was born in Scotland in 1834. Hector arrived in New Zealand in 1862 after exploring western Canada for three years. He first worked in Otago, then came to Wellington in 1865 to run the Colony's Geological Survey and Museum.

Hector was also in charge of many other official scientific bodies. He dedicated himself to identifying natural resources, overseeing scientific research and publishing, and promoting New Zealand at many international exhibitions.

Hector's legacy

Hector was an extremely influential figure and received many honours in his lifetime, including a knighthood in 1887. His legacy continues today. A settlement, a mountain, a lake, a scientific award, and eleven species - including Hector's Dolphin - are all named after him.

Group with mounted pygmy right whale, including James Hector

Group with mounted pygmy right whale, including James Hector


  • Explorer and geologist
    Explorer and geologist - Read about Hector's fieldwork in Canada and New Zealand and the recognition he received.
  • Colonial Museum
    Colonial Museum - Learn about the museum, which Hector considered to be central to the study of science.
  • Promoting New Zealand
    Promoting New Zealand - See some of the medals Hector received for his work promoting New Zealand at International Exhibitions.
  • Home and family
    Home and family - View images of Hector, his family and their home Ratanui in Korokoro.