When you hear the name Davy Jones or the Davy Jones’ Locker, you are probably reminded of the character in Pirates of the Caribbean. He is big a part of the nautical lore and has been variously envisioned by sailors of all ages.
Some consider him to be the embodiment of Satan. Still, others consider him, or more precisely Davy Jones’ Locker to be a symbolic name for the bottom of the sea. Since sailors of the ancient times were more likely to end up at the bottom of the sea, if they died while sailing, it was also envisioned by some as their afterlife. Though the origin of the phrase is unknown it has become a part of the English language.
Who Was Davy Jones?
The exact person behind that name, considering that he even is a real person, is unknown. There are several conflicting stories. Some believe that he was a real sailor, seafarer, or a pirate, while others argue that he is the embodiment of the famous ‘folk Devil’ found in folklore. Let us discuss some of the other legends that are associated with the name.
Captain of the Flying Dutchman – Most famous story of Davy Jones’ Locker
Davy Jones was the most feared captain of the Flying Dutchman and also the ruler of the seven seas. He fell in love with Calypso, the sea goddess which ultimately led to his downfall. He was assigned the task of ferrying dead souls of sailors who had died at sea to the realms of the worlds beyond. Davy was allowed to set foot ashore once every ten years and given the freedom to meet his love Calypso.
However, when he completed his decade-long duty and came ashore, he found that Calypso had abandoned him. He could not find her anymore. Enraged he used the Journal of the Ancient Seas to ally with the nine pirate lords. Then he instructed them to bind Calypso to her human form.
This took place in The First Brethren Court, where the nine pirate lords used their ‘pieces’ to capture her.
However, Davy Jones never stopped loving her. Slowly guilt engulfed him to the point that he could not bear it any longer. Hence he carved out his heart and locked it away in the Dead Man’s Chest.
This is another popular lore where he was believed to be a pub owner in Britain. He would get his customers (who happened to be sailors) drunk so that they would pass out and then sell them as slaves to ship owners.
Soon his pub went bankrupt, and he changed careers and became a pirate. He stole a ship and set sail across the Atlantic Ocean. Davy attacked and captured ships and the onboard crew.
He would decapitate most of them, but the rest- he would lock them inside the ship and then sink it.
The same story also mentions him selling his soul to the Devil. This might be the story referenced in the 1594 song, ‘Jones’s Ale is Newe.’
Reference to Biblical Jonah
In the book of Jonah, God commands him to go to the city of Nineveh and tell the people there that God has been made aware of their wickedness, and hence the city shall be overthrown.
Instead of abiding by God’s wishes he decided to flee to Tarshish. When at sea a huge storm arises. The sailors realize that this is no ordinary storm and soon discovers the cause to be Jonah.
The latter confirms and asks to be thrown overboard. The sailors are reluctant at first, but the storm worsens compelling them to throw Jonah overboard.
As expected the storm subsides. Some people think that Davy Jones is the ‘evil sailor’ in the Book of Jonah.
There are other less plausible theories too like the one about a short-sighted Duffer Jones who would often fall off his ship. I guess it is too funny for the context that it is usually used.
In the 1630s there used to be a pirate by the name of David Jones. But he was not so popular that he would become a legend.
Contrary to most of the negative connotation that has been associated so far with the name Davy Jones, the Welsh seafaring community believes that Davy Jones refers to their patron saint St Davis.
According to this version of the story, St Davis protected the good sailors from the rough waves, and the evil ones are sent to ‘Davy Jones’ Locker’.
There is also a story which talks about a ghost named Duppy, from West India who came out in the night to haunt people.
There is also the tradition of paying homage to Davy Jones during the Equator crossing celebrations.
Reference in Books
The reference to Davy Jones has been found in literary pieces as well with the earliest dating back to Daniel Defoe’s Four Years Voyage of Capt. George Roberts, published in 1726 in the lines “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.”
Also in Tobias Smollett’s work The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, published in 1751 we find the lines: “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:, shipwrecks, and other disasters to which sea-faring life is exposed, warning the devoted wretch of death and woe.”
The description of Davy Jones that we find here is quite far from what we have seen in the Pirates of the Caribbean, not that I am claiming that to be the most authentic depiction of the legend.
In this book, he has been described as the devil. It is a shape-shifting spirit having saucer eyes, three rows of teeth, some horns and a tail, who breathed out smoke from his nostrils.
The movie Pirates of the Caribbean saw an intimidating spirit having octopus-like appendages in the place of a beard and crab claw instead of a normal hand.
The reference to Davy Jones and his locker appeared thereafter in various adventure stories, especially in naval fiction, examples of such work being Washington Irving’s Adventures of the Black Fisherman published in 1824 and Edgar Allan Poe’s novel King Pest (1835).
Apart from these the mention of Davy Jones is found even in the works like Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and other such 19th century classics.
In all the above stories one thing is common. None of them are credible enough or backed up by sufficient proof. Moreover, the name Davy Jones was to sailors what Voldemort’s is to people in Hogwarts.
When Davy Jones was famous, sailors refused to discuss him or the story of Davy Jones’ Locker openly, thus adding to the obscurity of the origins.