yo heave ho

Dead Man's Chest

"Dead Man's Chest" (also known as Fifteen Men On A Dead Man's Chest or Derelict) is a sailor's work song or "sea shanty" from Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island (1883), and a later expanded poem by Young E. Allison (1891). It has since been used in many later works of art in various forms. It has been suggested that the sea shanty is related to either the Dead Chest Island in the British Virgin Islands or Isla de Caja de Muertos in Puerto Rico. An edited version of the song can be heard on the album Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Swashbuckling Sea Songs.


Verse 1. Fifteen men on a dead man's chest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
The mate was fixed by the bosun's pike
The bosun brained with a marlinspike
And cookey's throat was marked belike
It had been gripped by fingers ten;
And there they lay, all good dead men
Like break o'day in a boozing ken
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.

Verse 2. Fifteen men of the whole ship's list
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Dead and be damned and the rest gone whist!
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
The skipper lay with his nob in gore
Where the scullion's axe his cheek had shore
And the scullion he was stabbed times four
And there they lay, and the soggy skies
Dripped down in up-staring eyes
In murk sunset and foul sunrise
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.

Verse 3. Fifteen men of 'em stiff and stark
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Ten of the crew had the murder mark!
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Twas a cutlass swipe or an ounce of lead
Or a yawing hole in a battered head
And the scuppers' glut with a rotting red
And there they lay, aye, damn my eyes
Looking up at paradise
All souls bound just contrariwise
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.

Verse 4. Fifteen men of 'em good and true
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Ev'ry man jack could ha' sailed with Old Pew,
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
There was chest on chest of Spanish gold
With a ton of plate in the middle hold
And the cabins riot of stuff untold,
And they lay there that took the plum
With sightless glare and their lips struck dumb
While we shared all by the rule of thumb,
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

Verse 5. More was seen through a sternlight screen...
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Chartings undoubt where a woman had been
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
'Twas a flimsy shift on a bunker cot
With a dirk slit sheer through the bosom spot
And the lace stiff dry in a purplish blot
Oh was she wench or some shudderin' maid
That dared the knife and took the blade
By God! she had stuff for a plucky jade
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.

Verse 6. Fifteen men on a dead man's chest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
We wrapped 'em all in a mains'l tight
With twice ten turns of a hawser's bight
And we heaved 'em over and out of sight,
With a Yo-Heave-Ho! and a fare-you-well
And a sudden plunge in the sullen swell
Ten fathoms deep on the road to hell,
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!


Stevenson found the name "Dead Man's Chest" in a book by Charles Kingsley. Stevenson said "Treasure Island came out of Kingsley's At Last: A Christmas in the West Indies (1871); where I got the 'Dead Man's Chest' - that was the seed".

In Treasure Island the full song is not reported. The chorus is given as:

"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest--
...Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest--
...Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"

The book mentions one other phrase of the song, near its end: "But one man of her crew alive, What put to sea with seventy-five."

Cultural References

  • In 1891 poet Young E. Allison (1853-1932) expanded the original lines from the novel (minus the "one man alive" line) into a poem he named "Derelict" and published in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
  • In 1901 music was added to the lyrics of "Derelict" for a Broadway rendition of Treasure Island.
  • In the The Adventures of Tintin comic book The Secret of the Unicorn (Le secret de la Licorne), a drunken Captain Haddock sings the song while narrating to Tintin the encounter of his ancestor with the pirate Red Rackham.
  • In 1947 sung by Bluto (as a pirate) in the cartoon "Popeye and the Pirates".
  • Sea-Goin' Sam sings the song in the WB cartoon Buccaneer Bunny, seguéing into a parody song about "Ma's Old-Fashioned Cider".
  • The Adventures of Superman episode called The Golden Vulture includes the self-styled pirating singing the song ad nauseam, to the exasperation of the (captive) Lois and Jimmy.
  • In 1967 writers for the Walt Disney film company found inspiration in "Derelict" for the sea-song "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)" which was played in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" theme ride at Disneyland.
  • The song is used to comic effect in the 1978 film Revenge of the Pink Panther. Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) is disguised as a pirate, and, as usual, bungles every aspect of it: his parrot is an inflatable one that spontaneously deflates several times, and he is unable to walk on his faux-peg leg without falling down. In addition, he tries to sing the song but mixes up the words; the song as he sings it reads: "Sixteen chests on a dead man's rum, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of the chest."
  • Tom Waits's 1985 album Rain Dogs contains the lyric "Sixteen men on a dead man's chest" and other piratical and sailorly phrases.
  • The Beastie Boys use the phrase "16 men on a dead man's chest" in their song "Rhymin & Stealin" from the Licensed to Ill Album, 1986.
  • Alan Moore made a play on the song in the 1986 graphic novel Watchmen. In a story-within-a-story, the main character, the only survivor of a ship waylaid by pirates in the open waters, must strap the carcasses of his crew together to form a raft. The chapter is called "One man on fifteen dead men's chests."
  • In the 1997 video game Curse of Monkey Island, a chapter in a pamphlet of motivational pirate literature is entitled "How to Get More Than Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest." Also, the first time Guybrush boards the Sea Cucumber, Mr. Fossey can be heard singing the beginning of Dead Man's Chest before he appears.
  • In 2000 the contemporary "pirate" vocal group The Jolly Rogers recorded Mark Stahl's arrangement of Young E. Alison's lyrics on their CD titled "Pirate Gold." This arrangement has become so commonplace in the renaissance faire and pirate reenactor circuits it is erroneously regarded as "traditional."
  • In a first season episode of American television series "Sports Night" it is one possible song suggested by Josh Charles's character Dan Rydell as a possible replacement for Happy Birthday that is suitable to be sung on the air to Robert Guillaume's charatcer, Isaac Jaffe.
  • The Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Time Chasers features a riff by Mike Nelson: "Fifteen men on a dead Dodge Dart!"
  • In German, the song is known as "17 Männer auf des Totenmanns Kiste", so it mentions 2 more men.
  • In Michael Ende's Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver and its sequel, the song is changed again to "13 men sitting on a coffin".
  • In the Klasky-Csupo/Nickelodeon Movies/Paramount Pictures film The Rugrats Movie, a parody of the song is sung by Tommy, Phil and Lil, and Chuckie.
  • The reggae band The Gladiators use the lyrics "Sixteen men on a dead man's chest" in their 1978 song "Jah O Jah O" (cover of The Viceroys' "Ya Ho").
  • Jack Peñate used the phrase "Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of Rum" in one of his verses in his song "Got My Favourite..." from his album "Matinee"
  • In the film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the chest that contains the heart of Davy Jones's is referred to as the "Dead Man's Chest". Joshamee Gibbs also sings a few verses of the song.


"Derelict" was a composition by Young E. Allison in 1891, nine years after Treasure Island was published. It is based on Stevenson's 4-line genesis from Treasure Island. "Derelict" is also variously known as Dead Man's Chest, Yo Ho Ho and Fifteen Men On A Dead Man's Chest. It has been so often imitated and derived from that it is often mistaken to be the original song from Treasure Island.



  • Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, ISBN 0-451-52704-6

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