Following the threat of war with France in 1858, rifle corps were set up throughout the country. The secretary of war, Mr. Sydney Herbert sent a circular to the Lord Lieutenants of the Counties suggesting that this be encouraged and by 1860 there were 124,000 men had volunteered for the rifle corps. Crowds gathered to watch the volunteers on drill and competing in shooting competitions and the volunteer movement remained popular for the next thirty years or so.
The author of this song, Matthew C. James, began life as an apprentice draughtsman at Mitchell's shipyard in Low Walker. In 1892, after serving with firms such as R. Stephenson and Co., James was appointed naval architect and surveyor of the Prince Line, and was responsible for the design of a large number of steamers for the line. James remained with Prince Line until 1897 when he rose to the position of manager of the Mercantile Dry Dock at Jarrow.
This song forms part of a collection of songs reprinted from local publications by Andrew Reid and Co. in 1898. Many of the songs deal with the topics of the day such as 'The Carliol Tower', 'The Quay on Sunday morning' and 'The Stivvison centennery', whilst others such as 'Oot iv a job', touch on working and domestic life. All of the songs in this collection are written in local dialect.