Concerns about poor working conditions, long hours and damage to children’s health were typically voiced by political campaigners fighting to regulate child labour. But the horrors of child labour also became the subject matter for poets and novelists whose often highly sentimentalised works played a large part in swaying public opinion.
This emotive poem, dedicated to Tory humanitarian Lord Ashley, was created specifically to support Ashley’s philanthropic comments within the House of Commons in which he argued for reform to working conditions and for the promotion of education.
Politically charged campaigns like this one were typically used to encourage reform legislation throughout the 19th century. The state had to balance the interests of economic expansion and industrialisation with an increasing sense of social responsibility from campaigners within a society based on Christian morals. Only seven years after the Act for the Abolition of Slavery, the overt comparison of slavery and child labour in the poem is unsurprising. While highlighting the time, effort and expense invested in overseas emancipation, the poet naturally questions 'the liberty denied to infants of the mother-soil'.