Comic song about the workhouse


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.

Full title:
"Just starve us," comic song, words by W. H. Freeman, music by Auber, adapted by T. C. L[ewis]
estimated 1843, London
Music / Illustration / Image
D F E Auber, W H Freeman
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Related articles

The working classes and the poor

Article by:
Liza Picard

Liza Picard examines the social and economic lives of the Victorian working classes and the poor.

Oliver Twist and the workhouse

Article by:
Ruth Richardson
London, The novel 1832–1880, Poverty and the working classes

The hardships of the Victorian workhouse led Oliver Twist utter the famous phrase ‘Please Sir, I want some more’. Here Ruth Richardson explores Dickens’s own experiences of poverty and the social and political context in which he was writing.

Related collection items

Related works

Oliver Twist

Created by: Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’s (1812-1870) second novel, originally published in serial parts 1837-39, and as a three ...