Frank Crossley Mappin was born on 15 August 1884 at Scampton, Lincolnshire, England, the son of Laura Morton and her husband, Samuel Wilson Mappin, a farmer, who many years later inherited the family baronetcy. Mappin was educated at Felsted School, Essex, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He went down without taking a degree, and about 1908 came to New Zealand.
Mappin worked as a cadet on a Kaukapakapa farm and tried his luck on the North Kaipara gumfields before buying a 20-acre orchard at Wade (later Silverdale). The orchard was improved with a packing shed and a wharf – it fronted the Wade River – and a launch was purchased to transport fruit to markets in Auckland. At Auckland on 20 October 1909, he married Eliza Ruby Thomson, daughter of a Kaipara farmer, George Lamberton Thomson, and his wife, Amy Codd.
During the First World War Mappin agreed to maintain the local store and post office while its owner served in the armed forces, and there, one morning in 1920, he found a cable advising that he had unexpectedly inherited the very substantial estate of an uncle. With three young daughters, the Mappins sailed for England and took up residence at the house they had inherited, Birchlands, at Sheffield. They stayed only a few months before deciding to return to New Zealand and leave behind the restrictions of English life.
In Auckland Mappin bought a six-acre property at Epsom. An unsuitable house was replaced by a larger one. He called it Birchlands and brought to it much of the furniture and furnishings of its namesake in England. The house backed on to a lane on the other side of which was another six acres running up to the Mount Eden Domain. This land was also acquired.
Frank and Ruby Mappin became devoted gardeners, moulding their 12 acres into a splendid private park. She planned and he, generally assisted by three employed gardeners, put her plans into force while cultivating for his own pleasure several glasshouses of orchids. The gardens were sometimes made available to large gatherings of professional groups. Ruby Mappin sought out rare plants for her famous rock garden or new tree specimens for the lawns. In this she was helped by her membership of the Royal Horticultural Society. During the depression of the 1930s she and her daughters stitched grey flannel shirts for relief workers, and during the Second World War she saw Birchlands lawns dug up to grow vegetables for the war effort.
Mappin was a close friend of Ernest Marsden, the first director of the DSIR, to which he gave a substantial donation at the time of its founding in 1926. This donation was later transferred to the Royal Society of New Zealand and, as the Mappin Trust, used for botanical research. In 1944, having already had his Daimler converted to an ambulance, he bought the former headquarters of the Auckland fire service and, with his wife, presented it to the Order of St John. Other benefactions (such as support for the bass Oscar Natzke) were quietly made but the Mappin name usually appeared near the top of published subscription lists. The most notable gift came in 1969 when Birchlands was transferred to Her Majesty the Queen as a residence for the governor general.
With Gilbert Archey, the director of the Auckland Institute and Museum, and the surgeon Carrick Robertson, Mappin went on several trips to the King Country and Lake Waikaremoana searching caves for moa bones. He made many gifts of both Maori and European material to the museum, and was on its council for 30 years. He was a Knight of Grace of the Order of St John, a long-serving member of the Mackelvie Trust, a trustee of the Knox Home and a governor of King’s College. The Northern Club, of which he was a life member, benefited from his generosity as did Eden Garden, the transformed quarry which adjoined his own property.
When the Mappins left Birchlands in 1969 they moved to a house on Remuera Road. Ruby Mappin died there on 28 November 1973. Sir Frank Mappin, who had succeeded to his father’s baronetcy in 1942, died on 25 January 1975, survived by his daughters. He was remembered as a charming and modest man with an impish sense of humour and a desire that the riches he had inherited should be put to good use.