Trim, the Ship’s Cat

Trim the Ships catTrim was a seafaring cat who accompanied Matthew Flinders on his many adventures. Trim was born on board the HMS Reliance in 1799 while it was sailing from the Cape of Good Hope to Botany Bay.

The 25 year old lieutenant, Matthew Flinders, took a liking to the kitten right away after seeing what a brave mouser he was. When Trim fell overboard, Flinders noted “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.” Flinders named the black and white kitten after the butler character in the book Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne because of the cat’s devotion and friendship. Flinders noted that Trim “…grew up to be one of the finest animals I ever saw,” adding,  “his tail was long, large and bushy . . . 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.” He was jet black, but had four white paws and a white star on his chest and grew to weigh almost 12 pounds.

Flinders describes his cat’s one main flaw of extreme vanity.  Trim would demand admiration from the crew who came to teach him tricks for their amusement. Trim was loved by the whole crew.

When Flinders was given command of the HMS Investigator in 1801, he brought Trim along with him. In 1802, they completed the first circumnavigation of Australia. Two years later, the HMS Porpoise wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef, but both Flinders and Trim survived.

Flinders was then given the command of the HMS Cumberland; however, he was imprisoned as a spy by the French while docked in Mauritius for repairs in 1803. Trim stayed by Flinders side through his imprisonment, but Flinders wrote, the cat “sometimes contrived to elude the vigilance of the sentinel at the door, and left us to make little temporary excursions in the neighborhood.”

Sadly in 1804, Trim disappeared and was never to be seen again even though a reward was offered. Flinders believed that his beautiful tuxedo cat had been stolen and eaten by a hungry slave. Flinders wrote in his tribute to Trim, “Thus perished my faithful intelligent Trim! The sporting, affectionate and useful companion of my voyages during four years. Never, my Trim, ‘to take the all in all, shall I see thy like again’’; but neer wilt thou cease to be regretted by all who had the pleasure of knowing thee. And or thy affectionate master and friend, he promises thee, if ever he shall have the happiness to enjoy repose in his native country, under a thatched cottage surrounded by half an acre of land to erect in the most retired corner a monument to perpetuate thy memory and record thy uncommon merits.”

Flinders remained imprisoned in Mauritius for six years. During that time, he wrote a tribute to his beloved companion Trim. To celebrate this bond, several statues have been erected to celebrate their friendship.  Since the discovery of Flinders’ tribute to Trim and its wider publication, the two friends have been reunited in various statues in Australia and in the UK.

Statue of Trim with Flinders, in Donington, Lincolnshire, Flinders' birthplace.

A separate plaque is dedicated to Trim, and bears the opening lines from the epitaph that Flinders wrote for his cat: “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 the tour of the globe, and a voyage to Australia, which he circumnavigated, and was ever the delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers.”

Plaque outside the State Library of New South Wales, dedicated to Matthew Flinders cat Trim

Plaque outside the State Library of New South Wales, dedicated to Matthew Flinders cat Trim

 

To read Flinders’ Tribute to the Memory of Trim click here.

 

Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for  you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

 

 

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Comments

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