Quote 1

Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

This pirate’s ditty, first sung in Chapter I and recalled many times afterward, remains one of the best-known legacies of Treasure Island. The poem encapsulates drink, death, and wickedness, which are inextricably linked to the pirates, and which give them an aura of wild glamour. The “bottle of rum” recalls the almost constant state of drunkenness of Silver’s ragged brigade. This reference to alcohol is also connected to idea of the “dead man,” as the pirates’ drunkenness results in mishaps, losses, and deaths, and is perhaps responsible for their ultimate failure.

The “dead man’s chest” symbolically refers to both Billy Bones’s sea chest and Flint’s hidden treasure. The pirates’ song associates the treasure chest with a dead man rather than a living one, suggesting that the pirates are unconsciously aware that their mission will end in death and failure. In a sense, they are singing of their own downfall, almost displaying a death drive. The image of the dead man’s chest also refers to the way in which greed leads to a man’s loss of soul and also recalls the ultimate futility of finding material treasure, as all humans eventually die in the end.