Davy Jones' Locker

Davy Jones' Locker
Punch Davy Jones's Locker.png
Davy Jones's Locker, by John Tenniel, 1892
GenreNautical folklore
TypeEuphemism for sea floor, or resting place for sailors drowned at sea.
Davy Jones pictured by George Cruikshank in 1832, as described by Tobias Smollett in The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle[1]

Davy Jones' Locker is an idiom for the bottom of the sea: the state of death among drowned sailors and shipwrecks.[2] It is used as a euphemism for drowning or shipwrecks in which the sailors' and ships' remains are consigned to the bottom of the sea (to be sent to Davy Jones' Locker).[3]

The origins of the name of Davy Jones, the sailors' devil,[2] are unclear, with a 19th-century dictionary tracing Davy Jones to a "ghost of Jonah".[4] Other explanations of this nautical superstition have been put forth, including an incompetent sailor or a pub owner who kidnapped sailors.

History

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[5]

An early description of Davy Jones occurs in Tobias Smollett's The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, published in 1751:[4]

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[4]

In the story, Jones is described as having saucer eyes, three rows of teeth, horns, a tail, and blue smoke coming from his nostrils.

Proposed origins of the tale

The origin of the tale of Davy Jones is unclear, and many conjectural[2] or folkloric[6] explanations have been told:

  • 'The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue' by Francis Gros, published in 1811,includes the definitions: “DAVID JONES. The devil, the spirit of the sea: called Necken in the north countries, such as Norway, Denmark, and Sweden” and “DAVID JONES'S LOCKER. The sea”. [1]
  • The 1898 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable connects Dave to the West Indian duppy (duppy) 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 duppy 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 duppy Jonah was sent to."

    — E. Cobham Brewer[4]
  • David Jones, a real pirate, although not a very well-known one, living on the Indian Ocean in the 1630s.[7]
  • Duffer Jones, a notoriously myopic sailor who often found himself overboard.[8]
  • A British pub owner who supposedly threw drunken sailors into his ale locker and then gave them to be drafted on any ship.[6]
  • Linguists consider it most plausible that Davy was inspired by Saint David of Wales, whose name was often invoked by Whalessailors, and Jones by the Biblical Jonah.[9]