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The story is of a sailor returning home from sea and being scorned by his sweetheart (or in this case the sweetheart’s mother), but then being welcomed with opened arms once he has disclosed his fortune. The same theme exists in other folk songs, such as “Jack Tar”, and would have been particularly pertinent in the days when much of Britain’s male population was seafaring. There is just a hint in this song that the girl and her mother are operating a bawdy house, given the alacrity with which the mother offers her daughter to the sailor, having discovered he has money. There are also overtones of “The Wild Rover”.
Printed versions date from at least the early 19th century, some setting the story in Liverpool, and the song persisted into the 20th century with many American versions having been collected.