Miss Cuddlywumps considers the amazing life of Trim, the cat who circumnavigated Australia with Matthew Flinders
Statue of Trim, Matthew Flinders's cat, on a window
ledge of the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.
By Rcbutcher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
21 September 2012.
Trim the cat had the sea in his blood. He was born in 1799 on board HMS Reliance while the ship was sailing from the Cape of Good Hope to Botany Bay. The little black kitten was distinguished by his white feet, white underchin, and especially the white star on his chest. He was also distinguished by his pluck and agility, proven one night when he fell overboard while playing but managed to swim back to the ship and climb a rope to get safely aboard (luckily the ship was in harbor that night).
Trim soon became a favorite of everyone on the Reliance, and particularly of one Matthew Flinders, who was to become known for charting the coast of Australia. Flinders enjoyed watching the cat and made a written record of his antics, which included performing tricks the seamen had taught him. An active cat, Trim was as adept at climbing up into the ship’s rigging as he was at performing that perennial duty of a ship’s cat: catching rodents.
He was also a master at getting each and every man aboard to give him a little bite to eat at dinnertime. Trim wasn’t a cat to go hungry; if those little bites weren’t given willingly or quickly enough, he would swipe the meat right off a seaman’s fork. These actions didn’t usually get the cat in trouble, though, as the men were so impressed with his audacious dexterity. At least one seaman was even known to have conversations with Trim, as though the cat could understand and respond to him (which Trim, brilliant feline that he was, probably could).
During his time with Flinders, Trim circumnavigated Australia on HMS Investigator from 1801 to 1803. Flinders’ investigations proved that Australia was in fact a continent, rather than a collection of smaller islands. At the end of that voyage, Investigator was declared unseaworthy and Flinders and Trim boarded HMS Porpoise to return to England. It was on that voyage that Trim and his crew were shipwrecked and forced to swim for their lives. The survivors, including Flinders and Trim, were stranded on Wreck Reef Bank for two months until they were rescued. Trim, with his usual pluck, entertained the sailors with his feline antics, helping to keep their spirits up.
Statue of Matthew Flinders,
Market Place, Donington, Lincs,
with Trim the cat at his feet.
© Copyright Rodney Burton and
licensed for reuse under this
After their rescue, Trim stuck with Flinders again, this time aboard HMS Cumberland for the remaining voyage to England. Unfortunately, England and France were now at war, and Flinders was taken prisoner when Cumberland stopped at a French port at Isle de France (now Mauritius) for repairs. Trim accompanied his commander into captivity until a French woman took the charismatic cat “to serve as a companion for her little daughter.”
Soon, though, Trim was reported lost, never to be seen again. Flinders believed the cat had been cooked and eaten by a hungry slave (though we hope this part of the story is not true). The commander and explorer vowed to erect a monument to Trim when he was freed.
Flinders was eventually freed in 1810, after seven years. His captivity had taken a toll on his health, and he died in 1814 without having created Trim’s memorial. A bronze sculpture of Trim was put up much later though, in 1996, at the State Library of New South Wales. There, the cat stands proudly on a ledge behind a statue of Flinders. Trim also appears in a statue of Flinders in Donington, England (Flinders’ birthplace).
Lewis, Val. Ship’s Cats in War and Peace. Revised and reprinted. London: Nauticalia, 2004.