Davy Jones’s Locker is an idiom for the bottom of the sea; the resting place of drowned sailors. It is used as a euphemism for death at sea (to be sent to Davy Jones' Locker), whereas the name Davy Jones is a nickname for what would be the devil/saint/god of the seas. The origins of the name are unclear and many theories have been put forth, including incompetent sailors, a pub owner who kidnapped sailors, or that Davy Jones is another name for the devil – as in, “Devil Jonah”. This nautical superstition was popularized in the 1800s.
The earliest known reference to Davy Jones’ negative connotation occurs in the The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle
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 explanations have been proposed:
- There was a man by the name of Vanderdecken, original owner of the Flying Dutchman, Jones' ghost ship. There was an actual David Jones, who was a pirate on the Indian Ocean in the 1630s, but most scholars agree that he was not renowned enough to gain such lasting global fame.
- A British pub owner who is referenced in the 1594 song "Jones's Ale is Newe." He may be the same pub owner who supposedly threw drunken sailors into his ale locker and then dumped them onto any passing ship. He could also be Duffer Jones, a notoriously myopic sailor who often found himself over-board.
- Welsh sailors who would call upon Saint David for protection in times of mortal danger. Some also think it is simply another name for Satan.
- The name may have come from Deva, Davy or Taffy, the thief of the evil spirit. Davy may also stem from Duppy, a West Indian term for a malevolent ghost, or else, perhaps, from Saint David, also known as Dewi, a Welsh sea god and also the patron saint of Wales, or perhaps Davy Jones derives from the prophet Jonah,
- There is also the "Jonah" theory, Jonah became the "evil angel" of all sailors, as the biblical story of Jonah involved his shipmates realizing Jonah was an unlucky sailor and casting him over-board. Naturally, sailors of previous centuries would identify more with the beset-upon ship-mates of Jonah than with the unfortunate man himself. It is therefore a possibility that "Davy Jones" grew from the root "Devil Jonah" - the devil of the seas. Upon death, a wicked sailor's body supposedly went to Davy Jones' locker (a chest, as lockers were back then), but a holy sailor's soul went to Fiddler's Green.
- Another suggestion is that it comes from "Deva Lokka", a Hindu goddess of death. Although Deva is undoubtedly a Hindu term for a goddess, it is not clear that there was such a figure as "Deva Lokka".
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 the next eldest was his assistant who was called Davy Jones.
Use in media
In 1824 Washington Irving mentions Jones’ name in his Adventures of the Black Fisherman:
Herman Melville mentions Jones in the 1851 classic Moby-Dick:
In Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel Treasure Island, Davy Jones appears a number of times, for example in the phrase “in the name of Davy Jones”. In J. M. Barrie’s novel Peter and Wendy, Captain Hook sings a song:
The Current US Navy song Anchors Aweigh refers to Davy Jones in its current lyrics adopted in the 1920s: