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, i.e. to “be sent to Davy Jones’s 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.
So where did the legend actually come from? Many explanations have been proposed as to the mysterious origins, including the ones below….
• 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 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 overboard.
• The legend might refer to Welsh sailors who would call upon Saint David for protection in times of mortal danger, though this is unlikely, as the Welsh have always used the saint’s Welsh name Dewi. Some also think it is simply another name for Satan.
• The name may have also come from Deva, Davy or Taffy, the thief or 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, the patron saint of Wales.
• Another theory? Perhaps Davy Jones derives from the prophet Jonah; the “evil angel” of all sailors, as the biblical story of Jonah involved his shipmates realizing Jonah was an unlucky sailor and cast him overboard.
• 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’s locker (a chest, as lockers were back then), but a pious sailor’s soul went to Fiddler’s Green.
So what’s the true story? We may never know, but it’s always fun to speculate. Have you ever heard different interpretations of the legend?