Tags: Matthew Flinders. History. Historical people. Australia
Trim – Matthew Flinders Cat
By Graham Mills
Trim was the much loved and well-travelled cat of Captain Matthew Flinders, the great naval explorer and cartographer. Together they sailed around Australia, around the world and together were shipwrecked and imprisoned.
When the “Norfolk” sailed into Moreton Bay in 1799, Trim was aboard to see his master, Matthew Flinders, be the first European to land on Bribie Island and explore the Pumicestone River (now Passage). Captain Matthew Flinders wrote this book in a biographical tribute to the memory of Trim; “Never will his like be seen again!” The book was written when Matthew Flinders was a prisoner of the French on the Isle de France (now Mauritius) 1803 – 1810.
It is a delightful book, affectionately written about the dearly beloved constant companion to Matthew Flinders’ greatest achievements.
Trim was born in 1799 on board HMS “Reliance” in the middle of the Indian Ocean on her return journey to Botany Bay from Cape of Good Hope with livestock for hungry Sydney. Matthew Flinders named him Trim after a character in the book “Tristram Shandy” and wrote in his book “Trim”;
“It was from a gentleness and innate goodness of his heart that I gave him the name of Uncle Toby’s honest kind hearted humble companion”. “Trim grew to be one of the finest animals I ever saw. His tail was long, large and bushy; and when he was animated by the presence of a stranger of the anti-catean race, it bristled out to a fearful size, whilst vivid flashes darted from his fiery eyes, though at other times he was candour and good nature itself. His head was small and round – his physiognomy bespoke intelligence and confidence – his whiskers were long and graceful, and his ears were cropped in a beautiful curve.
Trim’s robe was a clear jet black, with the exception of his four feet, which seemed to have been dipped in snow, and his underlip, which rivalled them in whiteness. He had also a white star on his breast, and it seemed as if nature had designed him for the prince and model of his race: I doubt whether Whittington’s cat, of which so much has been said and written, was to be compared to him”.
Trim was a good swimmer. He soon learnt to swim after falling overboard and climbed up a rope thrown over to him, “Took hold of it like a man and ran up it like a cat”. He had the open run of the ship and was a favourite of the officers and seamen who soon taught him tricks. One was lying on his back with his paws in the air until given permission to rise. Trim did his duty to King and country by catching the rats and mice that so plagued the ships at that time.
He was admitted to the table of almost every man and officer in the ship and soon grew fat and sleek. When Matthew Flinders returned to England in 1800 on the HMS “Reliance” via Cape Horn, Trim was with him. In 1801-1803 Trim and Matthew Flinders sailed in HMS “Investigator” for their greatest expedition, discovering a large part of the unknown southern coast and mapping and circumnavigating what Matthew Flinders called “Australia”, proving New Holland in the west and New South Wales in the east was one land mass.
Australia had its shape and its name and was circumnavigated for the first time. In 1803 on HMS “Porpoise” sailing to England for a replacement ship for the unseaworthy “Investigator”, Trim and Matthew Flinders were shipwrecked off the Queensland coast. Leaving Trim with the shipwreck survivors on Wreck Reef Bank, Matthew Flinders returned to Sydney for rescue ships.
After two months they continued their journey to England on the schooner “Cumberland”. This ship was leaking badly and they were forced to call into the Isle de France (now Mauritius) for repairs, not knowing France and England were at war again. They were imprisoned, Matthew Flinders for nearly seven long years.
Sadly here Trim disappeared and could not be found despite a reward being offered. Flinders suspected that he had been taken by a hungry, black slave. “Thus perished my faithful intelligent Trim! The sporting, affectionate and useful companion of my voyages during four years.”
In 1996 with a Navy Band playing to 400 guests, a bronze statue of Trim was unveiled at the Mitchell Library, Sydney. It stands on the window sill behind a statue of his master. Also here is the “Cafe Trim”.
A replica of Trim can be found at the Bribie Island Seaside Museum, eyes shut, as though he is dreaming of the adventures with his famous master, one of the greatest explorers, Captain Matthew Flinders.
He looks as though he could wake up, stretch and start purring or scamper up the ropes of one of Matthew Flinders’ ships.