I was reminded of this as I bobbed around in the sea in Brazil the other weekend. I do love swimming in the ocean and I thought that if I could describe the feeling it would be as happy as a sandboy.
So, where does it come from? I had no idea. Internet sources say that the phrase actually originated in Bristol, not a place I ever associated with much sand. However, apparently in the 19th century there were some caves there that were the source of sand and that perhaps the phrase refers to the workers who carried the sand out of there. After a long day’s work, they couldn’t be happier than when they got a beer. The phrase “As jolly as a sandboy” appeared in Dickens, but apart from that this expression seems to have been passed down by people in their own families.
As happy as a sandboy actually means to be in a state of blissful contentment and the North Americans have a version, as happy as a clam. More sand. Interestingly, the full idiom is “As happy as a clam in high water”. This is because in high water was less likely to be harvested than at low tide.
I can’t say I identify much with clams so I’ll take the sandboy version!