Sunday, 17 February 2013

Davy Jones' Locker

Davy Jones' Locker, also Davy Jones's Locker, is an idiom for the bottom of the sea: the state of death among drowned sailors. It is used as a euphemism for death at sea or consignment of one's remains to the bottom of the sea (to be sent to Davy Jones' Locker).
The origins of the name of Davy Jones, the sailor's devil, are unclear, with a 19th century dictionary tracing Davy Jones to a "ghost of Jonah". Other explanations of this nautical superstition have been put forth, including an incompetent sailor or a pub owner who kidnapped sailors.


The earliest known reference of the negative connotation of Davy Jones occurs in the Four Years Voyages of Capt. George Roberts,

by the author Daniel Defoe, published in 1726 in London.
Some of Loe's Company said, They would look out some things, and give me along with me when I was going away; but Ruffel told them, they should not, for he would toss them all into Davy Jones's Locker if they did.
—Daniel Defoe
An early description of Davy Jones occurs in Tobias Smollett's The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, published in 1751:
This same Davy Jones, according to sailors, is the fiend that presides over all the evil spirits of the deep, and is often seen in various shapes, perching among the rigging on the eve of hurricanes:, ship-wrecks, and other disasters to which sea-faring life is exposed, warning the devoted wretch of death and woe.
—Tobias Smollett
In the story Jones is described as having saucer eyes, three rows of teeth, horns, a tail, and blue smoke coming from his nostrils.


The origin of the tale of "Davy Jones" is unclear, and many conjectural or folklore explanations have been proposed:
  • The 1898 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable connects Dave to the West Indian duppy (duffy) and Jones to biblical Jonah:
    He’s gone to Davy Jones’s locker, i.e. he is dead. Jones is a corruption of Jonah, the prophet, who was thrown into the sea. Locker, in seaman’s phrase, means any receptacle for private stores; and duffy is a ghost or spirit among the West Indian negroes. So the whole phrase is, "He is gone to the place of safe keeping, where duffy Jonah was sent to."
    —E. Cobham Brewer
  • David Jones, a real pirate, although not a very known one, living on the Indian Ocean in the 1630s.
  • Duffer Jones, a notoriously myopic sailor who often found himself over-board.
  • A British pub owner who supposedly threw drunken sailors into his ale locker and then gave them to be drafted on any ship. He may be the pub owner who is referenced in the 1594 song "Jones's Ale is Newe."


The tale of Davy Jones causes fear among sailors, who may refuse to discuss Davy Jones in any great detail. Not all traditions dealing with Davy Jones are fearful. In traditions associated with sailors crossing the Equatorial line, there was a "raucous and rowdy" initiation presided over by those who had crossed the line before, known as shellbacks, or Sons of Neptune. The eldest shellback was called King Neptune, and Davy Jones would be re-enacted as his first assistant.

Use in media

19th century

In 1824 Washington Irving mentions Jones' name in his Adventures of the Black Fisherman:
He came, said he, in a storm, and he went in a storm; he came in the night, and he went in the night; he came nobody knows whence, and he has gone nobody knows where. For aught I know he has gone to sea once more on his chest, and may land to bother some people on the other side of the world; though it is a thousand pities, added he, if he has gone to Davy Jones's locker.
In Edgar Allan Poe's "King Pest" of 1835, Davy Jones is referred to dismissively by the anti-hero, Tarpaulin, when King Pest refers to "that unearthly sovereign" "whose name is Death." Tarpaulin responds, "Whose name is Davy Jones!"
Herman Melville mentions Jones in the 1851 classic Moby-Dick:
There was young Nat Swaine, once the bravest boat-header out of all Nantucket and the Vineyard; he joined the meeting, and never came to good. He got so frightened about his plaguy soul, that he shrinked and sheered away from the whales, for fear of after-claps, in case he got stove and went to Davy Jones.
In Charles Dickens's Bleak House (1852–3), the character Mrs. Badger quotes her former husband's work ethic, portraying Davy Jones in a formidable light:
"It was a maxim of Captain Swosser's", said Mrs. Badger, "speaking in his figurative naval manner, that when you make pitch hot, you cannot make it too hot; and that if you only have to swab a plank, you should swab it as if Davy Jones were after you."
In Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel Treasure Island, Davy Jones appears three times, for example in the phrase “in the name of Davy Jones”.

20th century

In J. M. Barrie's 1904 play and 1911 novel Peter and Wendy, Captain Hook sings a song:
Yo ho, yo ho, the pirate life,
The flag o' skull and bones,
A merry hour, a hempen rope,
And hey for Davy Jones.
The Current US Navy song "Anchors Aweigh" refers to Davy Jones in its current lyrics adopted in the 1920s:
Stand, Navy, out to sea, Fight our battle cry;
We'll never change our course, So vicious foe
steer shy-y-y-y.
Roll out the TNT, Anchors Aweigh.
Sail on to victory
And sink their bones to Davy Jones, hooray!

Anchors Aweigh, my boys, Anchors Aweigh.
Farewell to foreign shores, we sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay.
Through our last night on shore, drink to the foam,
Until we meet once more,
Here's wishing you a happy voyage home.
Late 20th century songs that refer to Davy Jones include Paul McCartney's song Morse Moose and the Grey Goose and the Beastie Boys' song Rhymin and Stealin.
In The Adventures of Tintin, the character Captain Haddock makes occasional reference to Davy Jones. Also in Secret of the Unicorn on page 17 while recounting Sir Francis Haddock manuscript to Tintin, references pirate ship raising the red flag and says, "The red pennant!... No quarter given!... A fight to the death, no prisoners taken! You understand? If we're beaten, then it's every man to Davy Jones's locker!"
The Iron Maiden song, "Run Silent Run Deep" (about submarine warfare) contains the lines: "The lifeboats shattered, the hull is torn/The tar black smell of burning oil/On the way down to Davy Jones/Every man for himself – you're on your own..."
The band Clutch have a song entitled Big News I, which says, when played backwards, "them bones, them bones, them dry, dry bones/ Come down to the locker of Davy Jones".
In the 1960s television series The Monkees episode "Hitting The High Seas" the character Davy Jones (played by musician Davy Jones) receives special treatment while kidnapped in a ship as he claims to be related to "The Original" Davy Jones, his grandfather. Meanwhile, his fellow bandmembers are held hostage, leading to various humorous situations.
In the 1994 movie The Pagemaster, Adventure (Patrick Stewart) and Richard Tyler (Macaulay Culkin) are shipwrecked and when Richard Tyler asks what happened to Fantasy and Horror, Adventure sadly replies,"I'm afraid they've gone below to Davey Jones."

21st century

The concept of Davy Jones was conflated with the legend of the Flying Dutchman in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, in which Davy Jones's locker is portrayed as a sort of purgatory, with Davy Jones being a captain assigned to ferry those drowned at sea to the afterlife before he corrupted his purpose out of anger at his betrayal by his lover, the sea goddess Calypso.
In the videogame Banjo-Tooie, on the Jolly Roger's Lagoon level the player can swim to the bottom of the lagoon and find a giant locker with the name "Davy Jones" on it. Destroying the locker will open a path to the level boss.
The term has also been used repeatedly in the animated TV series SpongeBob SquarePants to represent an actual locker in the bottom of the sea where Davy Jones (of The Monkees fame) keeps his gym socks.
Adam Carolla has repeatedly used or referenced the term on his daily podcast, The Adam Carolla Show.

See also