Trim: A Brave, Seafaring Cat

Trim a ships cat

Photos other than book cover are from Wikimedia’s library. Book cover from Google Books.

I have just read about Trim, a ship’s cat. A book was written about him by his human companion, Matthew Flinders, who was a navigator, catographer, scientist and the commander of ships including the Investigator, a worn-out ship in which he circumnavigated Australia to map it.

Flinders is one of the great figures of Australian history but little recognised in the UK. He is buried beneath Euston Station. Hardly a distinguished resting place. Commander Flinders is responsible for the name “Australia”.  I don’t think he came up with the name but picked it and promoted it. He is therefore considered to be responsible for the name. As a consequence, and because of his mapping of the coast of Australia, he is better recognised in Australia.

Matthew Finders loved cats. He wrote a 51 page book about his beloved cat Trim: Trim: The Story of a Brave, Seafaring Cat. His better known book is called “A Voyage to Terra Australis” in which he charts his voyages. Flinders was an exceptional man.

I quote verbatim what I believe is his introduction to his book about Trim. I believe I am allowed to do this on the basis that copyright has expired due to the passage of time. His words describe well Trim’s life and how devoted Flinders was to his beloved cat.

The story of a brave, seafaring cat who, in the company of Matthew Flinders, circumnavigated the globe in the years 1799-1804. To the memory of Trim, the best and most illustrious of his Race, the most affectionate of friends, faithful of servants, and best of creatures. He made a Tour of the Globe, and a voyage to Australia, which he circumnavigated; and was ever the delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers. Returning to Europe in 1803, he was shipwrecked in the Great Equinoxial Ocean; This danger escaped, he sought refuge and assistance at the Isle of France, where he was made prisoner, contrary to the laws of Justice, of Humanity, and of French National Faith; and where, alas! He terminated his useful career; by an untimely death, being devoured by the Catophago of that island. Many a time have I beheld his little merriment′s with delight, and his superior intelligence with surprise: Never will his life be seen again! Trim was born in the Southern Indian Ocean, in the Year 1799, and perished as above at the Isle of France in 1804. Peace be to his shade, and Honour to his memory.

Notes on the text: “Isle of France” or “Isle de France” is Mauritius, which is east of Madagascar which in turn is east of Africa:

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Flinders stopped off in Mauritius on his way home to England. As I understand it, he stopped for repairs to his ship. Flinders was taken prisoner because France and England were at war. He remained on the Island for 6 years as a consequence. Flinders died young at 40. When he got home he suffered constant ill-health. Immediately before he set sail for Australia he married Ann but Ann stayed behind because one of Flinders’s sponsors was angry about not being told that Ann was to accompany him. He did not see her for 9 years.

“Catophago” —  I have no idea what this is. It is probably a large lizard or something. The internet does not help me. Update (see comments): I think it refers to the local people who ate Trim. God, life sucks.

Associated page: Simon a ship’s cat.

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Trim: A Brave, Seafaring Cat — 15 Comments

  1. Wow he must have been heartbrocken to lose his cat although to be fair he doesn’t sound it – perhaps its just an inability to express emotions typical of the times.

    • I agree. I think he was heartbroken but the old fashioned stiff upper lip stopped him expressing it. I can really feel the life of this cat and captain. Tough life. Flinders appears to have been messed up health-wise by the journey and Trim had a short life. He was loved though. Flinders had to have been a good bloke. He loved his cat. At the time (1800) in England the domestic cat was ill-treated and a pest – just like certain parts of the world today.

      • from Wiki: When Flinders was accused of spying and imprisoned by the French in Mauritius on his return voyage to England Trim shared his captivity until his unexplained disappearance, which Flinders attributed to his being stolen and eaten by hungry slaves.

        • I am a bit shocked by that but thanks for the research Marc. Do you think “Catophago” are people? I hate to read that to be honest. There is nothing sacred on this bloody planet because humans manage it. The most decent is made indecent.

          Trim was a black and white bicolor as you say in the quote. Thanks Marc.

  2. in full:
    Trim was a ship’s cat that accompanied Matthew Flinders on his voyages to circumnavigate and map the coastline of Australia in 1801-03.

    Trim was born in 1799, aboard the ship ’roundabout’ on a voyage from the Cape of Good Hope to Botany Bay. The kitten fell overboard, but managed to swim back to the vessel and climb aboard by scaling a rope; taking note of his strong survival instinct and intelligence, Flinders and the crew made him their favourite.

    Trim sailed with Flinders on HMS Investigator on his voyage of circumnavigation around the Australian mainland, and survived the shipwreck of the Porpoise on Wreck Reef in 1803. When Flinders was accused of spying and imprisoned by the French in Mauritius on his return voyage to England Trim shared his captivity until his unexplained disappearance, which Flinders attributed to his being stolen and eaten by hungry slaves.

    Trim was black, with white paws, chin and chest. He was named after the butler in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, because Flinders considered him to be a faithful and affectionate friend. During his imprisonment Flinders wrote a biographical tribute to Trim in which he described him as ‘one of the finest animals I ever saw … [his] robe was a clear jet black, with the exception of his four feet, which seemed to have been dipped in snow and his under lip, which rivaled them in whiteness. He had also a white star on his breast.’

    In 1996 a bronze statue of Trim by sculptor John Cornwell was erected on a window ledge of the Mitchell Library in Sydney, directly behind a statue of his owner that was erected following the donation of Flinders’ personal papers to the Library by his grandson in 1925. The popularity of the statue has since led to the development of a range of Trim merchandise by the State Library of New South Wales. The Library’s cafe is also named after the cat.

    The plaque under it says:

    The best and most illustrious of his race
    The most affectionate of friends,
    faithful of servants,
    and best of creatures
    He made the tour of the globe, and a voyage to Australia,
    which he circumnavigated, and was ever the
    delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers
    Written by Matthew Flinders in memory of his cat
    Memorial donated by the North Shore Historical Society

    Trim also features on the first statue of Matthew Flinders to be erected in England, which can be found in Donington, the birthplace of Flinders.

    The Australian author Bryce Courtenay wrote a novel, “Matthew Flinders’ Cat”, in which both the cat and the library statue feature as major characters.

    • The relationship between “man” and “animal” is evident but within the limitations of the attitude of 19th century England towards animals, Flinders loved Trim.

  3. Thanks for a bit of Australian and British history.As a former sea-farer have visited Australia as well as Mauritius.On a voyage to canada in 1987 one of our ships Navigation officers took on board a kitten which sailed with us all the way to India.In those years i was very much a “Dog-Man” and hen ce not very interested in cats.Wonder what happened to that kitten? Its normally difficult for a pet to survive on ships, other than passenger ships which are like floating city’s.Drastic climate changes during a single voyage besides the ships rolling/pitching in rough weather can create havoc in the temperament as well as health of a animal or bird.Pets if owned on board cargo ships are usually owned by the senior navigation or engineering staff since they can receive better treatment.Sea-life and the sea hasn’t changed much over the centuries barring innovations in ships engineering and navigation, hence a sailor is always a sailor in the high seas.

    • Interesting Rudolph. You are a very well travelled person. Life for Trim on board must have been tough sometimes. At least the captain was looking after him. He probably got some of the captain’s food.

  4. Rotten humans ate Trim! Grrr!

    This has been so interesting, I had never heard of Flinders (or Trim) before.

    Trim was a tuxedo too, even better.

    “Notwithstanding my great partiality to my friend Trim, strict justice obliges me to cite in this place a trait in his character which by many will be thought a blemish: he was, I am sorry to say it, excessively vain of his person, particularly of his snow-white feet. He would frequently place himself on the quarter deck before the officers, in the middle of their walk; and spreading out his two white hands in the posture of the lion couchant, oblige them to stop and admire him. They would indeed say low to each other, “See the vanity of that cat!” but they could not help admiring his graceful form and beautiful white feet”

    Smart boy Trim!

  5. How interesting and how amazing we are reading about a sailor and his cat, over 200 years after they lived!
    I’d never heard of them either.

  6. I’m so sad that Tim was eaten probably in an awful manner as well poor little man :(. Rudolph what you said about animals not travelling well set me thinking about all the poor distraught animals smuggled into the country just to satisfy the needs of shallow people to possess ‘something a bit different’ the thought of Parrots stuffed into cardboard tubes when they are used to flying free then (if they survive) living out their long lives in a cage makes me physically sick and so angry!! There is sadly supply and demand for anything all because humans are grabbing and greedy and have to take, take, take without giving a second thought about suffering 🙁

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