Anthony (Tony) Buxton is retired in Chiang
Mai. He began his colourful history with, “Of course, I’ve
never worked in my life!” which is obviously taking liberties,
but Tony Buxton is a man who has enjoyed taking liberties with
Born in Sri Lanka, his father was managing
the family spice business. As a lad being educated in the UK,
Tony was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, but
even at that early stage in his life he was exhibiting a very
strong non-conformist streak. Instead of peddling spices he
began paddling around with spear guns and became a professional
spear fisherman instead. “I had absolutely no interest in
business. I was devoted to the sea.”
I asked him if he could make any money with
his spear gun and he replied, “Money? Nothing! But what a
life! I paid a whole year’s income tax catching 202 lobsters
in Colombo!” Little did the lobsters know they were better
than legal tender.
Spear fishing did take him half way around
the world, when he competed at the world championships in Malta.
It was there he met up with another underwater adventurer,
Australian Ben Crop, and the two forged a life-long friendship.
Another celluloid adventurer was Lex Barker,
the Tarzan character, whom Tony met when he sold Tarzan some
jewels to take back to Jane. This resulted in Tony working as a
stand-in for Barker in a Tarzan movie shot in Ceylon.
Tony’s life was idyllic for the times,
underwater spear fishing, catching rare tropical marine life
which he sold to people such as Jacques Cousteau for his marine
aquarium in Monaco and being the middleman for the rare gems
exporters, and picking up a few dollars here and there taking
tourists on underwater safaris.
However, with the advent of the Marxist
government life for Ceylon’s Crocodile Dundee began to get
harder, so he landed a job in Bangkok with the Borneo Company.
“You didn’t work for the Borneo Company - you were employed
by the Borneo Company,” he said with a laugh, emphasizing his
claim to have never worked in his life.
Here in Thailand he found crystal clear
waters (in those days) and he founded the Thailand Sub-Aqua
Club, being one of the first divers in the country in 1962.
“Before then they were all too worried about the sharks, but
the last one had been in 1924.” Sharks of course would have
been no match for Tarzan’s double, of that both Tony and I are
In Bangkok he was enjoying the good life and
had put on a few kilos, but when his friend Ben Crop invited him
to star in a movie to be shot in Australia and the Pacific he
jumped at it. “Tarzan” was met by the press in Sydney. “He
looks more like King Farouk, than Tarzan,” was the Aussie
press’ description, but Tony didn’t care. He was underwater
and doing what he wanted. The movie shifted to Fiji but then ran
into financial problems, which bounced back on to Tony, who had
invested whatever he had into the venture. The film ended up in
the bin, rather than in the can, and Tony was washed up in
Singapore, down to his last $100.
Jumping in at the deep end (if you’ll
pardon the pun), he found that there was enormous potential for
underwater work in Singapore and ended up running a salvage and
underwater damage survey company in conjunction with the giant
Exxon Company. This was very successful and by employing good
managers, he came up from beneath the water and devoted some
time to playing polo with the Sultan of Johore. In fact, he
lived in one of the Sultan’s palaces and commuted three times
a week to the Singapore office.
He had been ‘playing the field’ (and not
the polo field either) and the Sultan said that it was time Tony
got married so that he could concentrate more on his polo game,
and it was strongly suggested by the Sultan’s son, the Raja
Muda of Johore, that he marry “the nice Thai girl” he had
brought to polo a couple of times previously. The Sultan agreed,
and the poor girl was informed that she was getting married the
next day with the Mayor of Johore officiating, and the reception
at the palace. That was 30 years ago, and “the nice Thai
girl” has endured, despite the ‘spear gun’ wedding.
During the next few years Tony travelled to
Thailand many times and set up his own underwater consultancy
which covered everything from salvage to tourist recreational
diving trips. These suited his lifestyle, still being the
underwater spear fisherman of fortune that he was by inherent
By 1978 Tony and his (long suffering) wife
began looking at settling in Chiang Mai. “I reckoned we could
live here and I could get down to Singapore once a month for a
few days and do any odd consulting job that came up.” However,
in Tony’s own words, “Then the bombshell fell!” He was
approached by an insurance company who knew of his underwater
abilities and his past experience and he was offered the job of
managing a project to inspect and repair 200 offshore oilrigs.
Repairing these huge structures was costly and Tony estimated
that each would take around five million dollars and the total
bill would be one billion and the job take 10 years to complete.
A consortium would put up the money and Tony’s fee would be
5%. For those not of quick mathematical bent, that is fifty
Retire in Chiang Mai immediately or go for fifty million and
retire in 10 years a rich man? He vacillated and finally chose
to turn his back on the money. He went to Bangkok, bought a
pick-up and loaded his wife’s furniture and belongings and
drove to Chiang Mai. He is still here, with his wealth of
stories, but without the wealth of fifty million in the bank!