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Davy Jones' Locker


"What is the origin of Davy Jones' Locker? I hear it all of the time with reference made to Pirates and sailors of old, and now with the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movies out, I really want to know!"
Pirates were obviously sailors, but the legend of Davy Jones is not a pirate legend, it is a sailor’s legend. The story of Davy Jones and the Flying Dutchman as presented in the Disney films are really a combination of at least three different legends that didn’t originally have ties to each other. It’s important to note that in legend Davy Jones is not the Captain of the Flying Dutchman, though the squid faced Jones of Disney fame does bear some of the characteristics of legendary Flying Dutchman’s Captain. This page here deals with the origins of the Davy Jones legends. Click on each of the following to learn about the Flying Dutchman or the Greek Goddess Calypso.

Let’s look at some reference material first.

Davy Jones

“Personification or spirit of the sea. The name is best known in the expression ‘Davy Jones’s locker,’ meaning the bottom of the sea, to which drowned sailors go.” [The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.  2001-07. (]

Davy Jones’ Locker

“The bottom of the sea, especially as the grave for all who perish at sea. Also as personified in songs and stories. Origin unknown…” [The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. (]

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 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898. (]


A locker in those days simply was a chest of sorts. It was your personal suitcase or duffel bag of the time. Davy Jones' Locker is an idiom for the bottom of the sea; the resting place of drowned seamen. It is used as a euphemism for death at sea (to be "sent to Davy Jones' Locker" for example). Some sources say that the locker would be the resting place of a wicked sailor, but a holy sailor's soul went to Fiddler's Green.

As is common with slang, the exact origin of Davy Jones and his locker is hard to discover. There are various stories about the origin of the term, usually attempting to identify a real David Jones. Here are some examples:

  • A London pub owner or barkeep from the 1594 ballad 'Jones Ale Is Newe' named David Jones who may be the same pub owner that reportedly used to drug or otherwise incapacitate hapless drinkers, storing them in his ale locker, until they found themselves waking up aboard different ships. These men had been forced into service by a press gang. A press gang is unit of men under orders to force men into military service.
  • David Jones, a pirate on the Indian Ocean in the 1630s. - Jan Rogoziński, The Wordsworth Dictionary of Pirates, Ware, Hertfordshire, 1997; but most scholars agree that he was not famous enough to have earned global fame.
  • Another theory says that Davy Jones was a fearsome pirate, who loved to make his captives walk the plank, so they ended up at the bottom of the sea. Possibly the same one mentioned above.
  • Duffer Jones, a notoriously myopic sailor who often found himself overboard.
  • Davy may come from Duppy, a West Indian term for a malevolent ghost.
  • Davy could come from Saint David, the patron saint of Wales . Welsh sailors would call upon the saint during times of danger. David Jones is also a very common Welsh name, and may have something to do with the origin.
  • Another story identifies him with Jonah of the Old Testament, and indeed today’s reference books state that Jones is a corruption of Jonah. Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish; but survived. Jonah became the "evil angel" of all sailors. In the biblical story, Jonah’s shipmates realized that Jonah was unlucky as a sailor and threw him overboard. Naturally, sailors of old would identify more with the shipmates of Jonah than with Jonah himself, making it possible that "Davy Jones" grew from the root "Devil Jonah" - the devil of the seas.
  • A euphemism for a "Devil Jonah"; Jonah being a term referring to any bad luck on the ocean. Many also think it is just another name for the devil. Some call him Dewi, Deva, Davy or Taffy, the thief of the evil spirit.

In print the phrase goes back almost three centuries. First recorded in 1726, Daniel Defoe mentions the phrase in his book "The Four Years Voyages of Capt. George Roberts": "Heaving the rest into David Jones's locker, i.e. the sea." Davy Jones eventually became known as the spirit of the sea, though at this point it appears not to have yet taken on the later connotations of misfortune.

In 1751 his name was mentioned negatively for the first time in chapter 15 of "The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle" by Tobias Smollett: "This same Davy Jones, according to the mythology of 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. I'll be damned if it was not Davy Jones himself. I know him by his saucer eyes, his three rows of teeth and tail, and the blue smoke that came out of his nostrils." By 1803 sailors were referring to Davy Jones's locker as nautical slang for the bottom of the sea.

In 1824, Washington Irving mentions Jones's 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 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: "Yo ho, yo ho, the frisky plank, You walks along it so, Till it goes down and you goes down To Davy Jones below!"


The Current U.S. Navy song ‘Anchors Aweigh’ refers to Davy Jones in its current lyrics which were adopted in the 1920's:

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.


The Legend of Davy Jones by David Jeremiah 2006

Some say he steers a spectral ship
That's ghostly, grey, and grand
He's doomed to sail the seven seas
And ne’er set foot on land
And if you chance to see him
You'll soon be dead from fright
So sailors tell their children
On a dark and stormy night

Oh Forty fathoms deep he walks
With rusty keys his locker locks
Just like he's half asleep he stalks
Forty fathoms deep

Forty fathoms deep he owns
Each sleeping sailor's soggy bones
The legend they call Davy Jones
At forty fathoms deep

Nor east we sail to Brimstone head
The captain, crew, and I
At sixteen knots we fairly flew
Beneath a darkening sky
A top the main mast I rode
Near ten stories high
Went up there blew an icy squall
And overboard went I

Oh Forty fathoms deep he walks
With rusty keys his locker locks
Just like he's half asleep he stalks
Forty fathoms deep

Forty fathoms deep he owns
Each sleeping sailor's soggy bones
The legend they call Davy Jones
At forty fathoms deep

I hold my breath I say a prayer
For all those mates who died
I turn my back on Davy Jones
And cast my fears aside
Raise up my head and kick my feet
And toward the light I go
The heartless jailer left behind
The locker far below

Oh Forty fathoms deep he walks
With rusty keys his locker locks
Just like he's half asleep he stalks
Forty fathoms deep

Forty fathoms deep he owns
Each sleeping sailor's soggy bones
The legend they call Davy Jones
At forty fathoms deep

Click Here to read about the Flying Dutchman!






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