This ballad sheet was published during the mid-19th century and purports to detail the life of two central characters, William and Mary. Solider William surprises Mary one morning by announcing his intention to travel overseas to fight on Indian soil (in the first or second Anglo-Sikh wars of the Punjab under Commander-in-Chief of Indian forces, General Hugh Gough). Naturally heart-broken, Mary decides to disguise herself as a man and enlist in the British army herself. Mary succeeds in her ruse as ‘no-one suspected a red coat conceal’d a maid’, and engages in active service beside her lover to avenge the British dead. Mary and William finally marry and bless the day they first went to war together.
The ballad was published in various forms during the mid-19th century, the detail of the battles and generals it contains changed to reflect current conflicts in India. Though probably apocryphal, the ballad nevertheless appealed to the Victorian sense of melodrama and drew on the experience of ordinary men called overseas as part of the many Imperial conflicts that took place during the 19th century.
- Article by:
- Ruth Richardson
- Popular culture, Reading and print culture
From public notes and broadsides to catchpennies and printed songs, Dr Ruth Richardson examines the variety of street literature which informed and entertained the public before newspapers were readily available.