ONE of the world’s leading geologists and an intrepid explorer to boot, Sir James Hector is one of the many Scots who is more revered in his adopted country than in his native land.

The phrase “explorer to boot” is very apt because Hector was once involved in an incident that nearly cost him his life and ended with a mountain pass in the Canadian Rockies being given a name which commemorates that incident to this day.

This week sees the 190th anniversary of Hector’s birth. He was born in Edinburgh on March 16, 1834, the son of a lawyer, Alexander Hector, and his wife Margaret née Macrostie. Educated at Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University, Hector graduated in medicine at the age of 22. At university, he carried out studies in geology, and he came to the attention of Sir Roderick Murchison, director of the British Geological Survey.

READ MORE: A saint and a sin lie at the heart of this Scottish town’s story

At the time of Hector’s graduation, the British North American Exploring Expedition was being planned and Murchison recommended Hector’s services both as a geologist and doctor to the leader of the Expedition, Captain John Palliser. The expedition was eventually named after Palliser, but it was really a cooperative effort by Palliser, Hector, the astronomer Thomas Blakiston, astronomer and secretary John W Sullivan, and the French botanist Eugène Bourgeau, all of whom have geographical features of Canada named after them.

The aim of the Palliser Expedition was to explore the Canadian portion of the Rockies from 1857 to 1860. Accompanied by his trusted guide Nimrod of the Stoney-Nakoda tribe of natives, Hector led the survey of the magnificent Bow Valley in Alberta, his work being commemorated in the name of Hector Lake in the valley.

It was an adventure that nearly killed the Scot. We know exactly what happened on August 28, 1858, because he recorded it in the Palliser Expedition diary: “We met a very large stream, equal in size to Bow River where we crossed it. This river descends the valley from the north west and on entering the wide valley of Beaverfoot River, turns back on its course at a sharp angle, receives that river as a tributary, and flows off to the south west through the other valley. Just above the angle, there is a fall about 40 feet (12m) in height, where the channel is contracted by perpendicular rocks.

“A little way above this fall, one of our pack horses, to escape the fallen timber, plunged into the stream, luckily where it formed an eddy, but the banks were so steep that we had great difficulty in getting him out. In attempting to recatch my own horse, which had strayed off while we were engaged with the one in the water, he kicked me in the chest, but I had luckily got close to him before he struck out, so that I did not get the full force of the blow. However, it knocked me down and rendered me senseless for some time.”

READ MORE: The remarkable other Fairbairn brother deserves hall of fame spot

The kick to his chest had knocked Hector clean out and his companions were soon convinced that he was dead as he appeared not to be breathing, so they laid him down under the shade of a tree.

His assistant Peter Erasmus checked him after an hour and could find no trace of a pulse or breathing. They decided to bury Hector at the scene and were just about to lay him to rest when one of the men noticed one of his eyes blinking. They quickly managed to revive the young Scottish doctor who was in great pain but alive – just. He and his party only survived after the Stoney-Nakoda people came to their rescue.

His companions instantly named the area where the incident occurred as Kicking Horse Pass, and it has retained the name ever since.

Undaunted, Hector began a new stage in the expedition, discovering mountains, passes, rivers and lakes that were unknown to all but the native tribes.

For his role in the Palliser Expedition, Hector was made a fellow of both the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Geographical Society.

READ MORE: Why is Scotland's national animal a unicorn? This might be the answer

In 1862, he set off for New Zealand. His talents as a planner, organiser and leader of men had been very much in evidence in Canada and now he was put in charge of the Geological Survey of Otago which over the course of three years surveyed much of the South Island of New Zealand and charted such things as the mineral wealth and plant species of the area. Hector’s innovative geology was recognised around the world, and recommendations for economic growth in the South Island were also followed.

In 1865, he organised a section of that year’s New Zealand Exhibition in Dunedin – the city named for Edinburgh by Scottish immigrants to the country. He was now a well-known name in the country and having already been recognised by the central government, he was put in charge of various federal undertakings such as the Colonial Museum in Wellington – though his collecting of Māori artefacts would bring him posthumous criticism.

When the New Zealand Parliament established an institute for the advancement of scientific knowledge in 1867, there was only one man to head it up and that was Hector. At one time or another, he was responsible for the management of the country’s standards of weights and measures, the Patent Office library, the Meteorological Department, the Colonial Observatory, and the Wellington Botanic Garden.

In 1868 he married Maria Georgiana, the daughter of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sir David Monro. They would have six children in all.

Hector was in constant demand for advice on a whole range of issues. He wrote 45 scientific papers in all as well as publishing his own guides to the natural wonders of New Zealand. He was honoured by several countries and was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1887, while serving 18 years as the chancellor of New Zealand University.

He lived for many years in Lower Hutt near Wellington and died there on November 6, 1907, aged 73. The Royal Society of New Zealand’s top award for research is named the Hector Medal after him.