Unscrupulous emigrant house masters peddled all sorts of lies to would-be travellers. Herman Melville's novel Redburn (1849) deals with his own experience as a crew member of a Liverpool-to-New York ship. One familiar fable concerned the "short space of time in which their ships make the run across the ocean." As emigrants at the time provided their own provisions, many would bring too little food to survive the journey. In the mid-19th century, ships were finally required by law to furnish each passenger with simple weekly uncooked rations. The staple dish became "oatmeal and water, boiled into what is sometimes called mush."

The comic song here, sung by stage comedians, described the "yellow meal" (pronounced male), and Mr. Tapscott, master of the well known emigrant house W. and T. J. Tapscott, Liverpool. When the simple-hearted passenger of this song hears about "one thousand bags of mail", he pictures a speedy mail-carrying packet ship. Mr. Tapscott is in fact describing the abundant but monotonous rations.

The Josh A. Walker here is probably the not-so-speedy New York trader Joseph Walker, which burned at pier on December 26, 1853 as described in the New York Times and the Boston Post. The wreck and salvage efforts disrupted wharfage at Pier 29 for nearly a year. The lengthy court case that followed is preserved by records of the New York Supreme Court.