The words “Davy Jones’ Locker” instilled fear into seafarers for centuries, as they described the sea bed – where sailors met their doom following a shipwreck. The phrase is still used as a euphemism for drowning.
There are several stories describing where and how the phrase originated, with one of the most popular claiming the original Davy Jones was a publican in the 16th century, who imprisoned drunken sailors in a locker and then disposed of them by dumping them on any docking ship.
The 16th century publican is just one of many explanations of the origins of “Davy Jones’ Locker”. Throughout history and folklore, other theories have been suggested, some of them more far-fetched than others. In truth, no-one has ever been able to definitively explain how the phrase began.
In Wales, Davy Jones’ Locker is said to refer to the nation’s patron saint, St David. He protects the good sailors from harm while at sea, but the locker is a place where the immoral sailors are sent.
A book published in 1811, The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, written by Francis Gros, defines David Jones as the devil, or the “spirit of the sea”. He was known as Necken in Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
In popular folklore, Davy Jones’ is said to be based on the reckless sea captain, Vander Decken, skipper of the Flying Durchman and a 17th century pirate. He was banished and cursed for killing crew members and throwing them off the ship, but his arrogance led him to proclaim he would successfully navigate through the perilous Cape Point.
However, in doing so, the Flying Dutchman was captured by the devil, who turned it into a ghost ship. This was bad news for any unfortunate ships and their crew who met the Flying Dutchman on their travels, as they would be turned into ghost ships too.
Davy Jones and the legend surrounding his name – designed to spook people and add to the mystery of the ocean domain – has also entered into popular culture over the years. The first known reference in modern literature is in American author Washington Irving’s 1824 novel, Adventures of the Black Fisherman.
Irving describes how the mysterious fisherman arrives in the night during a storm and departs the same way, with no-one knowing where he has gone. Although the author speculates that the fisherman may have gone to the other side of the globe, he also suggests he deserves “a thousand pities” if he has gone to Davy Jones’ Locker.
In his 1835 short story King Pest Fellow, American author Edgar Allan Poe describes the “unearthly sovereign whose name is death”, to which the anti-hero Hugh Tarpaulin replies, “Whose name is Davy Jones.”
Charles’ Dickens’ 1853 novel Bleak House and Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel Treasure Island also both mention Davy Jones.
As well as referring to the ocean bed, Davy Jones’ Locker was also known as the Land of the Dead and was said to describe purgatory. This explanation was explored in Pirates of the Caribbean, in which Davy Jones, played by Bill Nighy, became a terrifying character.
The character makes his second appearance in the popular franchise in Dead Man’s Chest. Computer-generated imagery was used to portray him as having long, snaking tentacles as a beard. He was voted the 10th best computer-generated film character of all time by a poll in Entertainment Weekly.
The character was based on the legendary pirate captain Vander Decken and his ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman. In Dead Man’s Chest, Davy Jones attempts to bargain with Captain Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp, to help him free his crew’s souls from eternal purgatory.
Sparrow himself was banished to the Land of the Dead, the dimension where souls claimed by the ocean, or eaten by the sea beast, the Kraken, were sent. It was depicted as a barren wasteland and the people trapped there weren’t able to go on to the peaceful afterlife.
Davy Jones’ Locker has even made it into pop and rock songs, such as the Genesis song, Dodo, from their album, Abacab, in 1981. The song links Jones with the mythical siren, who lures hapless sailors to their doom at the bottom of the ocean, suggesting she will “team up with Davy Jones” to trap seafarers.
American band, The Monkees, put an unlikely humorous slant on the legend of Davy Jones in their 1960s TV series. One episode, called Hitting the High Seas, saw the band kidnapped on a pirate ship. However, the character Davy Jones – played by the real-life band member of the same name – claims to be a descendent of the original Jones and receives special treatment!
Although lockers have achieved a special place in history thanks to the legend of Davy Jones’ Locker, Crown Sports Lockers’ selection of high quality changing room furniture is far too good to relegate to the bottom of the ocean.
On the contrary! With more than 25 years’ experience providing premium quality lockers and changing room equipment, our products are treasures you will want to hang on to!
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