It is always dangerous to ascribe folk songs to particular events in history but the body of evidence is that it refers to the Opium Wars with China of 1840. Printed versions seem to date from that period and as a song it has been collected fairly regularly in England. It has been picked up by others as “The Yankee Man o’ War” or “The Fenian Man o’ War”. Grainger collected a version from Mrs Wixey of Buckland, Gloucestershire but the recording is too poor to transcribe.
Williams collected no tunes but for a possible tune to this song, go to ‘Browse’ and search for 372 in the Roud number field.
Notes by Gwilym Davies 13 May 2015