The Reverend Alexander Don (1857-1934) was a Presbyterian missionary, whose main concern was with the Chinese miners in Central Otago who would pick over goldfields abandoned by European miners and often lived in conditions of extreme poverty. Don would walk thousands of kilometres across the goldfields to engage with the Chinese miners, and even went to China to learn Cantonese. His ‘Book of Chinese’, which lists the names and details of every Chinese person he had contact with, now forms the greatest demographic record of this group of people whose information might otherwise have been lost.
Don’s meticulous record-keeping can also be seen in the collection at the Ophir Post Office. He appears to have been a tireless polymath; amongst his many interests he was also the weather observer for Ophir on behalf of the Meteorological Office. This role was taken over by the postmistress on his death in 1934.
The archive that remains consists of recordings and letters sent between Don and the Met Office directors, commenting on the phenomenal weather of Central Otago – from frosts and snow to electrical storms and auroral observations. His observations were taken in his garden at The Bungalow, in Ophir.
This small observation book lists weather data for 1928. In 1995, Ophir recorded the lowest official temperature in New Zealand – minus 21.6°C.