#11 “Locker”

Davy Jones’ Locker. The deep-sea Hell of the drowned, according to pirate-lore and later nautical-lore. Davy Jones a diabolical figure, sometimes said to be glimpsed among the rigging during a storm. More often than not though, the sea-devil simply waits below.


Who was Davy Jones? The name was first recorded in print (in reference to the deep sea graveyard or Hell known as “Davy Jones’ Locker”) in Daniel Defoe’s 1726 work Four Years Voyages of Captain George Roberts. The locker. and the fiend himself. were described in more detail in Tobias Smollett’s The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, published in 1751:

“If it was not Davy Jones himself. I know him by his saucer eyes, his three rows of teeth, his horns and tail, and the blue smoke that came out of his nostrils. What does the blackguard hell’s baby want with me?” […] 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.  

It’s been hypothesised that the name Davy Jones may derive from the Welsh Patron Saint, David, whose name would often have been invoked by sailors from that country. Jones is, of course, one of the most popular Welsh surnames, so “Davy Jones” may have originated as a kind of joke. Others argue that Jones in this instance is a corruption of Jonah – the Biblical figure who was famously swallowed by a whale, or giant fish. The term “a Jonah” has long been used by seamen, meaning a someone whose presence on board brings bad luck to the ship and her crew.  

David Jones was a real pirate, who flew the skull and crossed bones as he sailed upon the Indian Ocean during the 1630s. He was not very well known however (and is even less so today), so it seems unlikely that he went on to become the Devil of maritime hell.  

Some say that Davy Jones was a pub landlord, who would throw drunken men into his ale locker (a lockable, strong cupboard) so that they could be press-ganged into service aboard ships. Again though, there seems little if any concrete evidence for this.  

All in all Davy Jones remains something of a mystery; a piece of eighteenth century folklore whose origin is obscured by vague and conflicting sources. The fact that Jones is seen as a hoarder of treasures, cargoes, and souls, suggests to me that he is greed, and perhaps hubris personified. He is a warning to those who would dare to overload their ships, and think that they could best the mighty ocean, and defy its power. 

Perhaps then Davy Jones is best thought of as a more modern incarnation of the Norse sea Goddess Rán, whose very name meant “plunder”, “theft”, or “robbery”. Rán would cast her gigantic net, dragging sailors and ships down to a watery grave upon the ocean bed.