08 Aug 2016
On International Cat Day (yes it is a thing!), we celebrate the epic story of Trim the Cat and Matthew Flinders - the first man to circumnavigate Australia.
Life can be dangerous at sea no matter how big or small you are. As a small kitten, Trim the Cat, lifelong friend and companion of Matthew Flinders, fell overboard while playing with his brothers and sisters. But, as Flinders reported, ‘this was far from being a misfortune; he learned to swim and to have no dread of the water; and when a rope was thrown over to him, he took hold of it like a man, and ran up it like a cat’. Five years later, while a prisoner of the French on Mauritius, Flinders wrote an ode to Trim, which will warm the heart of any cat-lover. He recorded how together they survived a Pacific voyage, the circumnavigation of Australia, shipwreck and a leaking ship. He described Trim’s character and exploits in the manner of any member of a naval and scientific crew:
‘Many and curious are the observations which [Trim] made in various branches of science, particularly in the natural history of small quadrupeds, birds and flying fish, for which he had much taste. These with his remarks upon men and manners, if future leisure should enable me to put them into order, I may perhaps give to the world; and from the various seas and countries he has visited, joined to his superior powers for distinguishing obscure subjects, and talents for seizing them, these observations may be expected to be more interesting than … imaginary adventures.’
Unfortunately Trim's fate did not reflect his heroic status as a great explorer and, despite surviving epic voyages and shipwreck, he disappeared during Flinders's time in captivity. Though we can't know his fate for certain, Flinders believed he was captured and eaten by hungry slaves.
Trim has since been immortalised in statues both in Flinders’s home town of Donington in Lincolnshire, and in the Mitchell Library in Sydney, but his best memorial is surely Flinders’s ode, preserved in manuscript in the archives of the National Maritime Museum.