This is a revenge ballad, and quite a satisfying one; you can’t help feeling William Taylor gets what’s coming to him, although it is a bit rough on the new girlfriend. The “woman cross-dressing to go on board ship” trope sits rather oddly in this song; apart from anything else, the captain doesn’t turn a hair when our heroine asks after her “true love”, so either he’s quite extraordinarily broad-minded for the period or she’s changed back into women‘s apparel by this point. We also have to presume that the ship hasn’t actually left port when all this is happening – and what is William doing out walking with his “lady gay” at the crack of dawn anyway? (Coming home from a club?) Perhaps it doesn’t bear too much analysis.
My source for this was John Kelly; this is the fourth 52fs song which also appears on John’s album For honour and promotion, and may well not be the last. I considered doing the (more usual?) brisker version of the tune, but decided to try taking it at John’s pace. Instrumentation: bongoes, double-tracked zither.