Weekly Local Biography

 Anthony Buxton


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 life itself.

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 sure.

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 nature.

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 million dollars.

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!