[Con] [Yo] Help Us A Bit?”

The [following] stirring appeal on behalf of the distressed operatives in Lancashire, has been addressed [to] [the] [working] men of Victoria, by Mr. W. Stitt Jenkins of [Geelong] .
A “Lancashire Lad” has been writing
Long letters at home to the Press ----
He tells how America’s fighting
Has plunged in the direst distress
The men and the women and children –
The hands of the mill and the pit;
Heartbroken and famished they wander,
And cry, “Con yo help us a bit?”
No more at the bell’s cheery ringing
We hurry away to the mill;
At our labour no longer we’re singing,
The loom and the shuttle are still;
Lord, lead us not into temptation
To thee in our sorrow, we cry,
O stretch forth Thine arm o’er our nation,
Send succour, or thousands must die.
“Con yo help us a bit” oh! our brothers,
Who far from old England have fled
Con yo help the poor fathers and mothers,
And children that perish for bread;
Con yo help us across the wide ocean,
For all kinds of work we are fit;
Dear friends, with the wildest emotion,
We cry, “Con yo help us a bit?”
We are willing to work – oh! how willing! –
But work can no longer be had.
And gone is our very last shilling,
And hunger is driving us mad.
Ah! think [on] our sad desolation,
And say con yo help us to flit
From wretchedness, woe, and starvation –
Con yo help us, dear sisters, a bit?
To you, oh our sisters, we’re crying -
Con you spare some help from your store?
Alas! we are starving and dying,
And your eyes shall behold us no more.
Ah! say con yo revel in riches,
Or peacefully sleep on your bed,
While thousands of Lancashire witches
Are begging for morsels of bread?
Is it true – the fine tales they are telling
Of rivers and mountains of gold?
And that in the land where you’re dwelling
Is room for the young and the old?
That there, in contentment reclining,
Each man neath his fig-tree may sit,
While we with grim hunger are pining?
Oh! try, “Con yo help us a bit?”
The Melbourne Herald, mentioning that these lines were stuck up in some of the shop windows of that town, the shopkeepers undertaking to receive subscriptions, relates the following incident [thereanem] :- A poor woman rushed into a first-class shop, with bare arms, her dress tucked up, and with bucket and scrubbing brush in hand, after reading Mr. Stitt Jenkins’ lines, and entreated the lady in attendance, for God’s sake, to allow her to “help them a bit” with her last half-crown, which she had only just then earned. Instances of the like with regard to the shilling subscription have been manifold. Their name is “legion.” And, in some cases, there has been as much hunting for the desiderated small coin as for Thomas Hood’s “last shilling.” This speaks volumes for the sympathy of the class. It shows that they do not rest satisfied with a mere “God help the poor!” but that they are ready to help them themselves to the utmost of their ability.

Title:Can You Help Us a Bit?

Author:Mr. W. Stitt Jenkins

Publication:Ashton And Stalybridge Reporter

Published in:Ashton-under-Lyne

Date:October 25th 1862

Keywords:charity, dialect, emigration, gender, poverty, war, work


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