The career of a pioneering figure in New Zealand science has been celebrated in an exhibition held in Lower Hutt.
Sir James Hector set up the Colonial Museum (now Te Papa), established the Royal Institute (now the Royal Society), was the first director of meteorological services, was the first manager of Wellington’s Botanic Garden, established the Colonial Observatory (now the Carter Observatory) and was a foundation member of the University of New Zealand senate and later served as its chancellor for 18 years.
Sir James was also a long-time Petone resident, moving into his hillside home of Ratanui - just west of where State Highway 2 is located today - in 1882 and living there until shortly before his death in 1907.
The exhibition, The Big Bang: James Hector and the Birth of Organised Science In New Zealand, was held last week at the Tutukiwi Living Gallery in Lower Hutt.
In opening the exhibition, Hutt mayor Ray Wallace said it was appropriate that Lower Hutt had followed Hector’s vision in becoming a home for science, with GNS and IRL- both antecedents of organisations that he once headed - important components of the Hutt economy. Mr Wallace said the government’s announcement that IRL would retain its presence in Lower Hutt was good news and showed the city was still a good place to carry out science.
Chris Hector, Sir James’ great-grandson, said the idea for the exhibition came from Judy Robb at Hutt City Council. “She heard we were having a family get-together and suggested an exhibition on Sir James would be a good way to celebrate the reopening of the revamped Tutukiwi Living Gallery.”
Mr Hector says family members thought it was a good idea. His brother, Peter, who lives in Mahina Bay set about contacting all the organisations that Sir James had started and seeking their help. “Most were very obliging. The Royal Society awards a Hector Medal as its top award. It gave us a couple of medals for the exhibition.”
Another brother, David, leant some of Sir James’ old geological instruments and wrote notes about them for the exhibition. The exhibition closed on Saturday and Mr Hector admitted attendances had been smaller than hoped. “But people who see it are interested and enthusiastic.”