The Rev. John Whiteley. after whom this church is named arrived in NZ. from the County of Notts, England, in May 1833. He took up missionary work among the Maoris with great enthusiasm, becoming a fluent speaker in Maori and highly honoured by Maori and Paieha alike.
He commissioned two native catechists to bring the gospel to Motorua (New Plymouth) in 1839. and prepared the way for the Rev. Charles Creed who conducted the first service of Christian worship attended by Europeans on January 14th, 1841, at Ngamotu Beach At the request of the Government and on the appointment of the church, Whiteley resided in New Plymouth in 1856 on a mission of peace. He won and held the confidence of both Maoris and Government throughout years of bitter strife until his death at Parininihi (Whitecliffs) on February 13th, 1869.