Frank Burnett Frank Burnett By Michael Hamson Frank Burnett was a wealthy gentleman from Vancouver, British Columbia, who made numerous collecting trips to the South Pacific from 1901 until his death in 1930. He amassed an enormous collection of artifacts, with over 1,200 being donated in 1927 to the University of British Columbia, which later became the founding collection for the Museum of Anthropology. Burnett was a Scotsman born in Aberdeenshire on February 14, 1852. His father was a captain of a Greenland whaler and Frank himself was apprenticed to a sailing vessel at the age of 14. At age 18, Frank moved to Canada, where his uncle was Archbishop of Montreal. Frank worked in a number of various professions, including ship’s purser, stockbroker, farmer, grain dealer, private banker and police commissioner. In 1895, he moved to Vancouver, becoming a pilot commissioner and real estate investor—the latter of which made him quite wealthy. In declining health, Burnett took a cruise to the South Pacific. The trip would have a profound impact on the rest of his life. Burnett recognized that the people and cultures he encountered on that first voyage were in a crucial transition from traditional to Western ways of life. With a sense of urgency, he planned to return to the South Pacific and venture to remote islands outside normal holiday and commercial traffic with hopes of encountering the fading native culture. To this end, he retired from his business dealings in Vancouver and purchased the 85-ton schooner Laurel with the intent to quickly head back to the South Seas. In 1901, he embarked with his wife, daughter, nephew and two friends for a two-year voyage to Hawaii, the Gilbert Islands and Fiji. Burnett was interested in both the indigenous cultures and the interaction between them and the white settlers and visitors. He took many photographs and aggressively collected “native implements and curiosities.” Burnett’s stated purpose of the voyage was “to study the habits and customs of the different groups of natives visited, and to collect relics of their former savage state.” After the first voyage, Burnett made nine more extensive trips—to Africa, Australia, Asia and South America. Many of the longer trips lasted between 10 and 18 months. All the while, Burnett continued his writing, taking photographs and collecting artifacts. The results of nearly 30 years of extensive travel were a collection of over 1,200 artifacts and four books: Through Tropic Seas, F. Griffiths, 1910; Through Polynesia and Papua: Wanderings with a Camera in Southern Seas, Griffiths, 1911; Summer Isles of Eden, Sifton, 1923; and The Wreck of the “Tropic Bird” and other South Sea Stories, Sifton, 1926. Frank Burnett died of a heart attack on February 20, 1930, in Vancouver, British Columbia.