Charles Dickens’s (1812-1870) novel Oliver Twist, first published fully in 1838, portrayed the misery of workhouse life, partly reflecting his own experiences of childhood destitution. Twist’s famous request for a second helping of food at the canteen ('Please, sir … I want some more.') resulted in his being beaten by the master, ‘a fat, healthy man’, and ejected from the workhouse.

Such scenes were familiar to music-hall audiences – as evidenced by the comic song shown here. The song was published around 1843, costing two shillings (the price of 12 bottles of beer). W H Freeman’s words (‘Tell Ah! Tell us, can aught be worse? Than hungry Maw & empty Purse!!’) were set to music by the popular French opera composer Daniel Auber (1782-1871) and adapted by one T C Lewis.

The song’s title page was illustrated by Robert Cruikshank (1789-1856) – elder brother of the more famous artist George Cruikshank (1792-1878), who provided the drawings for Oliver Twist.