[Con] [Yo] Help Us A Bit?”
Title:Can You Help Us a Bit?
Author:Mr. W. Stitt Jenkins
Publication:Ashton And Stalybridge Reporter
Date:October 25th 1862
As the notes to this poem explain, it was produced to raise awareness of the Cotton Famine in Australia, and posted in local shops as a means to attract funds for the relief effort. The author, William Stitt Jenkins, was a temperance advocate and frequent poetic correspondent to the Geelong press. He had himself emigrated to Australia from Whitehaven in Cumbria, and, like ‘Cheer up Lads’, the poem draws on the continued emotional attachment of emigrant communities in Australia to the land of their birth. Knowledge of the situation in Lancashire is also implied in the use of dialect for the repeated refrain ‘Con yo help us a bit?’
The poem opens with a reference to the ‘Lancashire Lad’, whose letter to The Times brought the Cotton Famine to national (and international) attention. The remainder is familiar territory – sad tales of families starving for want of work. Unlike ‘Cheer Up Lads’, the solution proposed in this poem is not emigration – though the attractions of Australia are noted – but charity. Emigration societies were established during the Cotton Famine to assist Lancashire people in attempting to find work in Australia, but providing employment at home through the Public Works Act proved more effective (see Norman Longmate, The Hungry Mills (London: Temple Smith, 1979), chapter 16.) – RM.
Written in forty-eight lines composed of eight-line stanzas, this work is in iambic metre but with most line lengths alternating between nine and eight syllables. There is a straightforward ABABCDCD rhyme scheme and the use of language is plain and unadorned. The form of address here is, as the ‘us’ in the title would suggest, first person plural, and represents the suffering of Lancashire addressing their better off peers but also a wider national and international audience. – SR