Alfred Henry Burton was born in England in 1834. In circa 1868 he joined his brother Walter Burton in Dunedin, New Zealand, where Walter had established a photographic business. Walter advertised as being 'of the firm of John Burton and Sons, of Leicester, Birmingham, Derby, Nottingham, and Burton-upon-Trent, England, Artist and Photographer' in Mackay's Almanac for 1867. Trading under the name 'Burton Brothers', Alfred and Walter remained in business together until 1876, when their partnership was dissolved. Initially the company seems to have been primarily involved in selling fancy goods, engraving and hiring out masonic regalia. They later became successful publishers of photographic views, employing photographers to take topographical views and photographs of special events and expeditions. Walter died in 1880. However, Alfred continued to trade under the name 'Burton Bros' until 1898, apparently appointing Thomas M.B. Muir to take over the portrait work. In 1898 Alfred sold his remaining interests to Muir and Moodie. Alfred was most famous for his trip up the Wanganui River in April and May 1885. His photographs from this trip form one of the most important records of Maori life. He spent his last years teaching elocution at Knox College. Alfred died in 1914.
An album containing mounted prints, most measuring approximately 200 x 140 mm, and depicting landscape and native life in New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa. All the prints except for ten are signed and captioned by Burton Brothers. The ten unsigned photographs, mainly photographs of Maori warriors, are probably not by Burton, since the firm was generally scrupulous in annotating its work. The album breaks down into geographical locations thus:
65 prints of New Zealand
10 prints of Fiji
7 prints of Samoa
1 print of New Hebrides (Espiritu Santo)
1 print of New Caledonia
Almost all the work illustrated here was taken in the course of two expeditions by Alfred Henry Burton (1834-1914), the first in 1884 to the Coral Islands of Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, etc., and the second through the King Country of New Zealand in the following year. It was for the ethnographical quality of the pictures taken during this second expedition that Burton was made a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1885.
Burton's signature on his photographs was almost always 'Burton Bros., Dunedin', and this can sometimes be misleading in the attribution of photographs. His brother, Walter Burton, died at an early age in 1880, so would have had no part in the photographs in this album. Burton also followed the not uncommon commercial practice of sending assistants on expeditions to take photographs which later were sold under the firm's name. This would not appear to be the case in this instance, Burton's two trips being amply documented (although it is possible that some of the photographs taken at Rotomahana were photographed at a different date).