by John H Marsh
JOHN HENRY MARSH is the doyen of South Africa's maritime historians. And Skeleton Coast is his story to beat every other story in his 50 years of waterfront reporting.
"Although I wrote Skeleton Coast more than a third of a century ago and have since continued with my ear to the ground waiting for another like it, none such has come my way," he says. "I am satisfied that there has never been a sequence of events to match those of this story."
John Marsh began his writing career in 1928 when he was 14 and still at Sea Point Boys High School, Cape Town. To all intents and purposes he grew up in Cape Town Docks, the "Tavern of The Seas". He knocked about in the bumboats, rubbed shoulders with the sea dogs and wore out camera after camera taking photographs of all and sundry. By 1929 he was writing a regular weekly illustrated feature on famous ships far the Cape Argus newspaper in Cape Town. In 1933 he became its full-time shipping editor.
In 1936 he was invited by the Union-Castle Line to travel in the Stirling Castle on her speed record-breaking voyage from England to South Africa doing press and radio reporting, broadcasts to the shore, photo news reporting and other publicity work. Two years later he did a similar job for the Shaw Savill Line on the maiden voyage of their Dominion Monarch from England to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and back. Later he was to repeat the sequence for the maiden voyage of the Lloyd Triestino Line's Africa from Trieste to Cape Town. At the same time he was making colour movies for publicity purposes for airlines and he and his wife, Leona, did such work in many parts of the world.
After 20 years on the Staff of the Argus, all of it doing waterfront reporting, he resigned and he and his wife in 1953 established the Travel and Trade Promotion Organisation. They now own and edit, with the help of their younger son, David, 7 specialist newspapers featuring travel, freight and business. But the sea is still "The Big Draw" for this author.