Frederick George Radcliffe was born at Toxteth Park, Liverpool, Lancashire, England, on 15 November 1863. His parents were Harriet Quilliam and her husband, Frederick Radcliffe, a well-to-do merchant in the West African trade. According to family information, he was educated at Audlem Grammar School, Cheshire, and also attended school in Belgium where he learned the oboe. He then spent some time in Oxford and while there was apparently appointed guardian of a member of a West African royal family. In 1885 he was a lieutenant in a Lancashire volunteer rifle corps.
On 28 July 1886 Radcliffe married Kate Litherland in West Derby; they were to have two daughters, Harriette Eva and Olive Isabel. Seeking an equable climate for his health, Radcliffe came to New Zealand in the early 1890s. His wife's brothers had settled near Paparoa, on an inlet of Kaipara Harbour, and here he purchased a farm of some 150 acres. Kate Radcliffe and the two girls arrived in New Zealand in 1894. Eva later went back to England to school, while Olive attended Mount Eden College, (later St Cuthbert's College) in Auckland.
Utopia, as Radcliffe's farm was called, prospered, but his interest turned to photography. The appearance of stereoscopic cards under the trade name 'Radcliffe and Stewart', the sale of scenic photographs to the Auckland Weekly News and New Zealand Graphic, and the interest of the Tourist and Health Resorts Department launched Radcliffe as a scenic photographer. Often accompanied by Kate, he began the country-wide trips that were a feature of his life for 20 years, and which provided the photographs for the later postcard business.
The farm was advertised for sale in 1905 and the family moved to Auckland for two years. During this time Radcliffe is said to have worked with C. J. Ellerbeck, an Auckland photographer. He also spent time in Christchurch taking photographs and playing the oboe in the New Zealand International Exhibition orchestra at Christchurch in 1906–7.
By 1908 the family were in Whangarei. The following year Radcliffe's studio in Cameron Street was taken over by Ernest de Tourret. The photographic business was then pursued at Stony Hill, the Radcliffe home in Mill Road, with its established orchard and untouched bush straddling the Hatea River. It was remembered for its walls papered with pages from the Weekly News and photographic transparencies over the windows.
Radcliffe recorded pictorial images of rural and urban New Zealand from the far north to Bluff on nearly 8,000 glass-plate negatives. A few were of family and Maori activities; the majority were clear, detailed images of parks, domains and gardens, municipal buildings, churches, streets, bridges, railways and wharves, and panoramic views of mountains, rivers, caves, thermal areas, forest and harbours. People seemed incidental, small, distant and unidentifiable.
Radcliffe's wife, his daughter Olive and a number of young women assistants processed and organised the postcards, each characterised by a neatly printed name, consecutive number and the initials 'FGR'. Many were composed into decorative greeting cards and, along with the other postcards, were sent to retailers nationwide.
Full-plate sepia photographs of magnificent northern trees or spectacular southern scenery, mounted and framed, were in demand throughout the country. Radcliffe's work was hung in the office of the high commissioner for New Zealand in the United Kingdom. In 1910 he published a souvenir album on the Waitomo caves. His photographs appeared in other souvenir albums and regularly in Christmas annuals. Views of the Hatea River were used by his friend and neighbour H. B. Dobbie in the 1921 edition of his book New Zealand ferns. A number of his photographs appear in C. A. Cotton's Geomorphology of New Zealand. Many of his quarter-plate glass negatives have survived, and the distinctive postcards and large art photographs are sought by collectors.
Frederick Radcliffe was active in the local community, especially in musical circles. For many concert and light opera performances he organised and conducted the orchestra. He was a member of the Savage Club, a committee member of the Waiata Society, and helped set up the Whangarei Beautifying Society. The family were members of the Whangarei Camera Club.
A slight, moustached, courteous and kindly gentleman, Frederick George Radcliffe died at Onerahi, Whangarei, on 14 January 1923. Kate Radcliffe died in 1963.