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.