(William) has been ordered to the banks of the Nile. Molly offers to cut her hair, dress like a man, and go with him. He will not permit her to; (the climate is too harsh or women are simply not permitted). (He promises to return and they are parted)
What is the historical reference here? The earliest Bodleian broadside, Harding B 11(158), is printed between 1855 and 1858. One possibility (see Laws N9 notes relating that "Randolph observes that Ord" makes the connection) is the second Battle of Abukir in which "in March 1801, a British army of 5,000 under General Ralph Abercromby landed to dislodge a French army of 2,000 under General Louis Friant. They did so, but not before 1,100 British troops were lost." (Source: Wikipedia article _Battle of Abukir_ ) - BS
Possibly supporting this is the fact that there was also a battle at Abukir (Aboukir) Bay on August 1-2, 1798, in which Nelson annihilated a French force, allowing Britain to control entrance to Egypt. This was, of course, a sea battle -- but it's often called "The Battle of the Nile."
Britain again interfered in Egypt in 1807, and the nation (along with the Sudan) was formally freed from Ottoman rule in 1841, largely as a result of European meddling. There were enough British soldiers floating around that the song would be relevant at almost any time from 1798 until the first broadsides appeared. The song takes place *before* the battle; as a result, I never really thought to associate it with a particular event. Though I concede that Aboukir makes sense; it put Egypt "in the news." - RBW
Laws quotes Dixie's Isle as "a Civil War adaptation" of N9. The "adaptation" is illustrated by the change from
We are called up to Portsmouth, many a long mile,
All for to be embarked for the Banks of the Nile
They call me down to New Orleans for many a long mile
To fight the southern soldiers way down in Dixie's Isle. - BS
In some of the Australian versions, rather than Willie being a soldier, he becomes a shearer. But the plot and pathos of the song remain clear.
Belden's text appears to be an adaption of this song to the context of the Mexican War (1846-1848). In this version, the modification is so complete that the girl does not even ask to come along; Laws, in fact, does not list Belden's piece as an adaption of this song.
Nonetheless, the kinship with "The Banks of the Nile" is still patently obvious. And neither Belden nor I knows of another version of the Mexican version of the song. So it seemed sufficient to list it here. - RBW