Arrgh! Down to Davy Jones' Locker With You!

This is a notice that DSN has changed names to The Davy Jones News Report. Kidding…Because of the slowness of end-o-year, deep-sea related news, I decided to end the week with a discussion, with the thanks of Wikipedia, of the origins of Davy Jones and his deadly locker, Arrgh!

NOUN: The bottom of the sea, especially as the grave of all who perish at sea.

The phrase actually goes back at least two centuries, the first known reference comes from Tobias Smollett, author of The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle in 1751:

This same Davy Jones, 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.

I am so happy I getting to used the words wretched, woe, and fiend all in one post. Arrgh! The phrase Davy Jones appears often in popular nautical literature. There is no reason not to assume the term was common among sailors for many years. So where did the name Davy Jones come from? David Jones is a common name in Wales, but as is common with slangs, the origin of the phrase as a spirit of the deep is hard to discover. These explanations have been expressed:

* A pub owner named David Jones who used to incapacitate hapless drinkers in his ale locker, and send them off aboard ships. “Off to ale locker with you, motherless drunk, and may the seas see your sins at the edge of the plank”

* Davy comes from Duffy (West Indian term for ghost) or St. David (patron saint of Welsh sailors) and Jones from prophet Jonah. “And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish.”

* Duffer Jones, a notoriously myopic sailor who often found himself overboard. “Arrgh, Duffer’s sight was as bad as if a Kraken and plucked his eyes from his sailor’s skull”

*And lest we forget the Davy Jones of Monkee’s fame

Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

One comment on “Arrgh! Down to Davy Jones' Locker With You!
  1. As a Davy myself I sure wish they would have picked another name for that locker! LOL! Well, actually I am a Dave, but phonetically that is close enough that I may end up getting suspicious looks on board ships when they mention that locker way down there where the fishes sleep! LOL!
    Dave Briggs :~)

Comments are closed.