“Do you fear death?” often asked Davy Jones, the legendary captain of the ghost ship Flying Dutchman, in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Davy Jones, the fictional character- an octopus-faced man who has his heart kept in a chest as a forever-memory of his love’s betrayal- is a cruel sailor, with an everlasting greed for violence.
For most of us, this octopus-faced Davy Jones comes to mind when somebody mentions ‘Davy Jones’ Locker.’ For the observant, of course, Davy Jones’ Locker is from where Jones raises the Black Pearl after making a pact with Jack Sparrow in the movie. Not just this movie, but there are many other movies, novels and poems that have told us the story of Davy Jones Locker.
But, what is really the Davy Jones’ Locker?
It is true saying that there’s always an element of truth in fiction and the stories around Davy Jones’ Locker do a better job of the truth. However the real story behind the phrase is quite different from the fictionalised version of it, some details of the legend seem to be true.
The phrase “Davy Jones’s Locker” is an idiom refers to the seabed, the resting place of thousands of sailors drowned at sea. Sailors use the phrase to denote the afterlife of seafarers or even objects including ships that destined to be rested in the bottom of the ocean. Nevertheless, the phrase, in its euphemistic sense, has been part of the English language for a quite long period, the origin of the word remains disputed.
Different Stories of Davy Jones’ Locker
The first reference to Davy Jones’s Locker dates back to the 18th century during which it was popularised as a nautical superstition among sailors and pirates. In the earlier times, the name-Davy Jones- was referred as the sailors’ devil and sometimes, the evil god of the seas. However, unsuccessful in tracing the origin of the term, historians argue that its root goes back centuries ago and the stories were transferred to generations by word of mouth.
Though the origin of the name or phrase remains unclear, there have been number of attempts to explain the truth behind it in the past. The prominent among these tales, those appeared in movies and writings, is the story of Jones as the captain of the mysterious ghost ship ‘Flying Dutchman.” The Flying Dutchman, a mainstay of maritime lore, is a legendary ghost ship that is doomed to sail the oceans forever since it can’t make port due the rough waters.
In one of the other stories, Davy Jones refers to David Jones, a pirate captain who sailed his ship across the Indian Ocean in 1630’s. But many historians reject its possibility by arguing that the person mentioning in this story was not popular enough to become a legend as is Davy Jones.
Davy Jones was a publican who had run a British pub, tells another story. This avatar of Davy Jones used to make his customers drunk and imprison them in his locker only to sell them off to ship owners as slaves. The pub owner later becomes a pirate after his pub going bankrupt. Stealing a ship, he went on to sail across the Atlantic Ocean and capture other ships and the crew abroad. While he decapitates most of the crew members, the remaining would be locked abroad before sinking the vessel.
For some, Davy Jones represents an infamously myopic sailor named Duffer Jones, who often fell into the sea from his ship. Another such interpretation points to the 19th-century dictionary that refers the name to a “ghost of Jonah” the biblical seaman whose name meant bad luck on to sailors. According to the Bible, God punished Jonah for his disobedience and he became the “devil of the seas,” after which the crew abroad his vessel killed him.Another version of the Jonah story refers to the prophet who happened to spent a few days inside the whale and connects his days in the tract of a whale with the Davy Jones’ Locker.
Among the Welsh seafaring community, Davy Jones refers to their patron saint – St. Davis, whom they believe is saving them from the harsh nature of the ocean. According to this legend, St. Davis will only protect the good sailors, while the immoral seafarers would be sent to Davy Jones’ Locker. Some theories also suggest that “Davy Jones” comes from the name of Duppy, the West Indian malevolent ghost. According to the lore that did rounds among the people in the islands, Duppy comes out in the night to haunt people.
Nonetheless, these stories are not supported by any credible evidence, these remain just stories told by. Thus, for some sailors, Davy Jones is no one, but another name for Satan.
References to Davy Jones’ Locker
It is said that many sailors, during those years when the lore of Davy Jones was very popular, refused to discuss the stories in detail among them. But at the same time, the tradition of paying homage to the Davy Jones was in practice especially during the celebrations of Equatorial line crossing.
Meanwhile, long before the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, the story of Davy Jones and his locker also has been found their place in several books, particularly works that talks about pirates. Daniel Defoe’s Four Years Voyages of Capt. George Roberts, which was published in 1726, is believed to be the first known work that mentions the name of Davy Jones in a negative sense. Similarly, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle by Tobias Smollett that published in 1751 also talks about Davy Jones, referring an evil spirit that comes in various shapes. However, the reference of Davy Jones’ locker was first found in an 1803 Naval Chronicle.
During the19th century, Davy Jones and his locker appeared in a number of naval and adventure fictions. Washington Irving’s Adventures of the Black Fisherman published in 1824, Edgar Allan Poe’s 1835 novel King Pest are prominent examples of such works. Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick, published in 1851, Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1852-1853) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s work published in 1883, Treasure Island, are other 19th century works that mention the Davy Jones in it. Even in the following centuries, despite the truth behind Davy Jones and his locker being disputed, various literary works have depicted similar characters and made several mentions of the legend.
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