A new biography of Don, Alexander appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Alexander Don was born in a tent in Ballarat, Victoria, on 22 January 1857, the eldest of 10 children of John Don, a stone mason, who had emigrated from Stirling with his parents in 1853. John Don and his brothers were gold miners for some years. His mother was a deeply religious woman and Alexander resolved to become a missionary at the age of six when he heard John G. Paton preach on the New Hebrides Mission. Poverty forced Don to leave school at the age of nine, after passing the sixth standard, to become a stamper-feeder at the Bendigo Mining Battery. At 15 he attended night school and passed the entrance examination after three months' study to become a pupil-teacher, and for the next six years he taught in Victorian schools and was active in church, Sunday school, and Y.M.C.A. work. In 1877 he volunteered for the Melanesian Mission field at one of Paton's meetings, but was recommended to work in New Zealand. He arrived in Port Chalmers on 16 January 1879, and took up the position of second assistant at the Port Chalmers School. In addition to his teaching work, he contributed regularly to the Australian and New Zealand press.
Later in 1879, he was sent by the church to Canton where he learnt Cantonese in 16 months, but a severe attack of yellow fever forced him to return to New Zealand. In 1881 he entered the Theological Hall and the following year received a charge at Riverton. He was ordained on 21 April 1886, and was given the charge of Missionary to the Chinese, with headquarters at Lawrence (Tuapeka). For some years he travelled annually throughout Otago, largely on foot, visiting every Chinese settlement, however isolated; in 18 tours he walked 16,000 miles. In 1889 he moved to Dunedin and continued his missionary work, opening the Chinese Church and Manse in Carroll Street free of debt in 1897. The following year he visited China and on his return persuaded the Assembly to establish the Chinese Village Mission in Canton. In 1907 he addressed the Assembly as Moderator on “Missions—the chief end of the Christian Church”. In 1913 Don was appointed to a charge in Palmerston North to minister to the Northern Chinese, and in December was appointed Foreign Mission Secretary, which position he retained until he retired to Ophir, Otago, in March 1923. There he busied himself with church work, meteorological observations, and the development of a magnificent garden.
Short and wiry, Don possessed tremendous physical vitality. His early poverty taught him self-discipline and economy. He lived simply and devoted most of his income to church work. A man of great mental vigour, he developed the capacity for intensive and sustained industry and throughout his life kept meticulous records of his activities. He was intensely fond of children and for many years contributed puzzles for children, based on scriptural knowledge, to the Outlook, the Presbyterian denominational paper. He wrote extensively for church publications, mostly propaganda for missions and church welfare. His wholehearted devotion to these causes ruled his life and his services were recognised by the Chinese Government in 1924, with the award of the Seventh Council of the Excellent Crop.
Don married Amelia Warne of Bendigo in 1883. He died on 2 November 1934, while journeying to Ranfurly on church business.
by Gloria Margaret Strathern, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S. formerly Librarian, Hocken Library, Dunedin.
- Memories of the Golden Road, Don, A. (1936)
- Otago Daily Times, 3 Nov 1934 (Obit).