Janet Donald was a prime mover in the commencement of the first Baptist church in Auckland, on Wellesley Street, and took the same initiative to help set up an outlier church in Otahuhu 18 km distant in what was then farmland.

There was leadership in Janet and she used it, even though the constraints of the time meant she could not take a named leadership role. At her funeral Janet was called u2018the mother of the Baptist Church in Aucklandu2019. What an honourable epithet!

Early in her adult life Janet faced huge challenges although her childhood appears serene enough. She was born and grew up in Scotland, the daughter of Hannah and Andrew Martin, a farmer in Wigtownshire on the far South West coast of Scotland. The date, 1819, is an educated guess. She must have been 16 at the time of her marriage to John Main (or Mayne) on 19 September 1835 in Glasgow.

We next know of Janet on her arrival in Auckland, New Zealand, as a widow on the Sir Edward Paget in December 1850, bringing with her two children. She must have been 31. However, she was not totally alone as she was following friends from Scotland who had come to New Zealand in 1842 on the Duchess of Argyle.

Church Joint-Founder, Baptist Tabernacle

Auckland was very young, and there was no Baptist church at all. In 1854, as various Christians considered forming a new church, prayer meetings about this were held in Janet Mainu2019s home in Nelson Street. By 1855 when the founding members of the Wellesley Street Baptist were listed, Janet was among them.

Wellesley Street Baptist Church (Now long gone.) [3]

This Wellesley Street congregation later built the Tabernacle at the top of Queen Street. Historian Paul Tonson comments on Janetu2019s role at this time: u2018Church minutes make few references to the activities of women, but Janet Main was associated with the leading men of the congregation in the task of interviewing prospective female members.u2019[2] Her organising and practical skills made Janet an acknowledged leader of Baptists, giving her energy to founding this and a second significant Auckland church.

Janet had been 14 years in New Zealand when, on 8 October 1864 at her residence in Nelson Street, she married a bachelor, Andrew MacKenzie Donald. Then aged 29, Donald was a compositor. He later became a farmer with land at Otahuhu. They had no children, and with Janetu2019s two children more independent there was time for work for the kingdom of God.

Church Joint-Founder, Otahuhu Baptist

The Great South Road passed through Newmarket, Penrose and Otahuhu; it became a military road into the Waikato during the Land Wars of 1863-64. Most of the 12,000 imperial troops and many of the 4000 colonial soldiers and their logistical support passed through Otahuhu. The road was improved, access to farms easier. Farming families settled. This inspired Andrew, Janet and Christian neighbours to start a Baptist church there in addition to the Presbyterian one. [3]

The need was sharply evident when one Mary Bain of Otahuhu was baptised at the 18 km distant Wellesley church. Her neighbours had to travel by buggy or horseback. Mr Richard Shalders, a leader in the Wellesley Church, saw the considerable need for an Otahuhu church, and in November 1878 bought a section for on the Great South Road. Fifteen people who gathered in the Donald home in December 1878 became the first members of Otahuhu Baptist Church with meetings in the Donald home prior to the building. Eventually the Baptist farming families and storekeepers of Otahuhu had their own chapel, opened in 1879. In 1880 a Mr TH Smith was appointed as part-time pastor with no salary, but the church flourished. There were baptisms in 1882 and later that year the Otahuhu church became a foundation member church of the Baptist Union of New Zealand.

Janet Donald apparently kept good health. She became the longest-surviving woman of the foundation members of the Wellesley Street Baptist Church. She was about 71 when she died on 27 March 1892, survived by Andrew and by one son from her first marriage, George Martin Main, a well-known journalist. Janetu2019s standing in the community was recognised in an obituary published in the New Zealand Herald. At the funeral Richard Shalders, long-time associate of Andrew and Janet and founder of the Auckland YMCA, called Janet Donald u2018the mother of the Baptist Church in Aucklandu2019, praising u2018her devout zeal, kindliness of heart, and benevolenceu2019.


Paul Tonson. u2018Donald, Janetu2019, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara u2013 the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1d16/donald-janet (accessed 16 May 2020)

Paul Tonson, A Handful of Grain: The Centenary History of the Baptist Union of NZ, Volume 1, 1851-1882, NZ Baptist Historical Society, 1982, Pp 23, 95,96


  1. WELLESLEY u2013 STREET BAPTIST CHURCH. DAILY SOUTHERN CROSS, VOLUME XXIX, ISSUE 5027, 1 OCTOBER 1873, PAGE 3 https://www.aucklandmuseum.com/collection/object/am_library-photography-51390
  2. Paul Tonson. u2018Donald, Janetu2019, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara u2013 the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  3. They remained on good terms with that group, it seems. Janet was later buried in the cemetery of the Presbyterian church.

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