Where does the expression “Davy Jones’s locker” come from and What does it mean?

Maybe there was once an Englishman whose name was really Davy Jones.

Perhaps he was the barman of the sixteenth-century ballad, “Jones Ale Is Newe,” and the locker, dreaded by seamen, may have been where he stored his ale.

That is speculation, however.

Actually the source of the name and the reason for bestowing it upon the bottom of the sea, especially as the grave of those who have perished in the sea, “gone to Davy Jones’s locker”, cannot be fathomed.

The first mention of Davy Jones, his locker came later, is to be found in The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, written by Tobias Smollett in 1751.

It occurs in the episode (Chapter XIII) describing the attempt by Peregrine and his two associates to frighten Commodore Trunnion by a dread apparition they have prepared, succeeding so well that the commodore exclaims:

“By the Lord! Jack, you may say what you wool; but I’ll be damned if it was not Davy Jones himself. I know him by his saucer eyes, his three rows of teeth, and tail, and the blue smoke that came out of his nostrils. What does the black-guard hell’s baby want with me?”

This same Davy Jones (Smollet adds), 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.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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