Davy Jones and his Locker

First known written reference appears to be Tobias Smollett, "The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle", 1751: "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"

Davy Jones

Davy Jones

"Davy" or "Davy Jones" = the spirit of the sea, a nikker, a sea-devil (Smyth, A Sailor's Word Book, 1867). "Davy Jones' Locker" = Bottom of the sea (Smyth, op cit, spells as Davy Jones's Locker, and gives: "The ocean; the common receptacle for all things thrown overboard; it is a phrase for death or the other world, when speaking of a person who has been buried at sea". (Also, rare: pseudonym for St Elmo's fire). May have originated from:

  • a pirate of that name who made his prisoners walk the plank (this is not documented)
  • a C16th London pub owner with a bent for pressgang activities and who stored the drugged sailors in his "ale lockers" (ballad: Jones Ale is newe)
  • Jonah of the Old Testament, who spent three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish, yet survived. The Davy may be from St David (Welsh patron saint [1]); quoted by Captain Francis Grose in his "Classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue", 1785 as "David Jone's Locker". The presumption would be that the locker is a seaman's chest. Grose also mentions that "davy" was "a vulgar abbreviation of affidavit."
  • West Indian "Duppy Jonah" [2]
  • a corruption of Duffer Jones, a clumsy fellow who frequently found himself overboard [3]

Davy Jones' Locker should not be confused with Fiddler's Green (numerous references, particularly Stan Hugill, but also [4]). The terms have been used in popular writing (example at [5]) and even in naval ops (example at [6]).

Davy Jones is also an integral part of the festivities of Crossing the Line on British ship's - "it is Davy Jones who hails the ship and announces the arrival of Neptune, or sometimes it can be Neptune's son, Triton." - Henningson, Crossing the Equator, 1961. This tradition probably started circa 1825, and occasionally portrays davy Jones as a pirate but more commonly as a devil, ghost or even banshee.

[1] Shay, Frank "A Sailor's Treasury. Being the myths and superstitions, lore, legends and yarns, the cries, epithets, and salty speech of the American sailorman in the days of oak and canvas", New York, W.W. Norton, 1951: "Old sailors, rather than speak of the devil, called him Deva, Davy or Taffy, the thief of evil spirit; and Jones is from Jonah, whose locker was the whale's belly. Jonah was often called Jonas, and as Davy Jones, the enemy of all living sailors, he has become the mariners' evil angel."

[2] "How Davy Jones was born. 'Duppy Jonah' doesn't mean much to either seafarer or landlubber, but the 'Davy Jones' derived from it does. "Tis said that this old sailing term for the mythical ruler of the bottom of the sea comes from the corruption of the words 'duppy' - West Indian for a ghost, and 'Jonah' a name long associated with a story of the sea." Ships, Number 20, June 1946, Shipbuilders Council of America. This explanation is given again by Hendrickson, Salty Words, 1984.

[3] Shay, op cit. "American sailors would rather not talk about Davy Jones and his infamous locker. They are ready enough to refer to him and his dwelling place, but just leave him an indefinite, unbodied character who keeps to his place at the bottom of the sea. Pressed, they will profess that they do not know what he looks like, his locker is to them something like an ordinary sea chest or a coffin, always open to catch any sailor unfortunate enough to find himself in the sea. Some English sailors incline to the belief that his name is a corruption of Duffer Jones, a clumsy fellow who frequently found himself overboard. The only time Davy comes to life is in the ceremony of Crossing the Line. Then he is usually impersonated by the smallest sailor on board, given a hump, horns and a tail, and his features made as ugly as possible. He is swinish, dressed in rags and seaweed, and shambles along in the wake of the sea king, Neptune, playing evil tricks upon his fellow sailors.

[4] Shay, op cit. "To be cast into the sea and sink is to fall into his locker and have the lid popped down on one. It is generally agreed that the Christian sailor's body goes to Davy Jones's locker, but his soul, if he is a proper sailorman, goes to Fiddlers' Green."

[5] "Pirate's song" from Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie:

Avast belay, yo ho, heave to,
A-pirating we go,
And if we're parted by a shot
We're sure to meet below!

Yo ho, yo ho, the pirate life,
The flag o' skull and bones,
A merry hour, a hempen rope,
And hey for Davy Jones.

Avast, belay when I appear,
By fear they're overtook;
Nought's left upon your bones when you
Have shaken claws with Cook.

Yo ho, yo ho, the frisky plank,
You walks along it so,
Till it goes down and you goes down
To Davy Jones below!

Yo ho, yo ho, the scratching cat,
Its tails are nine, you know,
And when they're writ upon your back ---
(A scream interrupts the song...)

[6] The Marine Dienst Gruppen, under U.S. Navy control, carried out "Operation Davy Jones Locker" (several toxic loaded hulks sunk with their cargoes in the Skagerrak). These snippets appeared in "17th Port Reporter" (a services newspaper published in Bremen):

"'Operation Davy Jones Locker' was just a colorful title until 4 p.m. June 28, 1946, when three living cargoes of death staggered northward from the quay side bilge waters of northern Germany. In reality it was a funeral procession - the first of its kind - and though much publicity had been given the oncoming event for a full month, the occasion lacked the impact of melodrama, fear and awe; but a tinge of uneasiness drifted in with the fog.

The cabin on the bridge glowed, Lt. Cdr. Boye Flood, USNR, director of the strange odyssey of the deep studied his charts with an experienced eye, and the escort vessel, the T-14, a former Nazi torpedo boat with two steam turbines in the stern, rumbled into the dimness at the head of the convoy ...

The last vessel to go down, the UJ-305, found its way to the deep in a murky cloud of gas and a barrage from the guns aboard the T-14. Although the ship was boarded at 2247, the unfamiliar lighting system of the northern regions enabled one to witness the last cargo of terror seek the way to the bottom in a flurry of well-aimed shots from the T-14."

When Jone's Ale Was New.

We have not found an "old" or "original" copy of Jones Ale is newe [note spelling]. This is the closest so far:

There were five jovial fellows, came over the hill together
Came over the hill together, to make a jovial crew
And they called for their pints of beer and bottles of sherry, to carry them over the hill so merry
To carry them over the hill so merry

Chorus: When Jones' ale was new my boys. When Jones' ale was new
And they called for their pints of beer and bottles of sherry
To carry them over the hill so merry, to carry them over the hill so merry
When Jones' ale was new, my boys, when Jones' ale was new.

Now the first to come in was a dyer and he sat himself down by the fire
He sat himself down by the fire, to make one of the jovial crew
And the landlady told him to his face, the chimney corner could be his own place
And there he could sit and dye his own face. ...

The next to come in was a hatter and no man could be fatter
And no man could be fatter, to make one of the jovial crew
And he threw his own hat down on the ground and swore every man should put in a pound
Then there'd be enough money for drinks all round.

The next to come in was a tinker and he was no small beer drinker
And he was no small beer drinker, to make one of the jovial crew
And he said "Have you any old pots or kettles. My rivets are made of the very best mettles"
Oh lord - how his hammer and nails did rattle.

The next to come in was a sailor, who had just signed of from a whaler
Who had just signed in from a whaler, to make one of the jovial crew
And he bragged about those far of places and swore the landlord would splice mainbraces
For if he did not he would soon wreck the place.

The last to come in was a soldier, with his firelock over his shoulder
With his firelock over his shoulder, to make one of the jovial crew
And the landlady's daughter she came in and he kissed twixt the nose and the chin
And the pints of beer came rolling in

Now the ale was always improving, so nobody thought of moving
And the longer that they sat boozing the greater the friends they grew
So rowdily they drank about, until the ale had all run out
And they asked old Jones to give them a shout.