Cats are fiercely independent, not devoted and loyal like dogs. They are afraid of water. And sometimes, because they’re cats, they ignore both of those stereotypes.
Captain Matthew Flinders of the British Navy is an Australian hero, having been the first to circumnavigate and map the continent as well as suggesting the name of the newly discovered land and writing the first book about it. He did so despite shipwrecks and imprisonment by the French, and he did it with the help of his faithful companion, Trim.
Trim the cat.
Trim was a kitten born aboard Flinders’ ship Roundabout (the H.M.S. Reliance, but Flinders liked to rename his ships while they were under his command). The ship was in the Indian Ocean on the way to what would become known as Australia when Trim was born. Distinguished from his littermates by his coloration (black fur with a white star on his chest and white pawtips) and his demeanor (unusually fierce and energetic, even for a kitten), Captain Flinders claimed the kitten for his own and named him after the loyal manservant in Tristam Shandy. (Royal Museums Greenwich)
The cat, born on a ship, developed a familiarity with water and when the ship was moored was known to regularly fall (or leap) from the ship, swim over to a trailing rope and use the rope to climb aboard.
When a rope was thrown for him he ‘took hold of it like a man and ran up it like a cat’, wrote Flinders. He was soon able to mount the gangway steps quicker than any member of the ship’s crew. ‘He grew up to be one of the finest animals I ever saw,’ observed his master; ‘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.’ Trim normally weighed between 10 and 12 pounds (4½ to 5½ kilos).
The cat learned a variety of tricks which it performed on demand for the sailors, and would accompany crew members on specific tasks. It became familiar with the order to hoist sails and would run aloft whenever the order was given by the Captain. And, being a cat, it poached food from the dining table. Because cat. The reports were that it did so in an unusual manner, however; Trim would target sailors for pilfering and, having snagged a piece of meat from a plate or even a fork while the person was distracted, would then leave the victim alone for the remainder of the meal, choosing successive targets until the cat was done.
Accompanying Flinders on the return trip to what would become Australia, Trim was recognized as the alpha by the ship’s dog contingent and effectively became the Captain of the ship’s animals (the ship’s name was the H.M.S. Investigator. Flinders called it the Spyall. Nobody knows what Trim called it.) He continued with his established habits, even as the ship became steadily more damaged and eventually abandoned in favor of a new ship, the H.M.S. Porpoise (Janty, in Flinders-speak.)
Trim’s time on the Porpoise was cut short when the ship wrecked on a coral reef. Flinders survived… and so did Trim. The pair, and some of the crew, survived for two months until being rescued by the H.M.S. Cumberland (in Flinders’ journals, it’s called the Minikin.) On that ship, they set sail for England… but the ship leaked.
They had to put in for repairs in Mauritius, but the French, who owned that island, believed that Flinders was attempting to spy and threw him and one other officer into prison. Trim went with him, spending weeks alternating between attending the prisoners and leaving through the bars to go hunting. Eventually, when he became convinced that the guards were planning to do something harmful to Trim, he accepted the offer of a French lady to take the cat in.
Trim immediately went missing. Flinders was convinced the cat had been killed and eaten by one of the islanders. The cat’s fate was never conclusively determined, though, and Flinders was eventually released and returned to England.
In his journal, he wrote:
‘Thus perished my faithful intelligent Trim! The sporting, affectionate and useful companion of my voyages during four years. Never, my Trim, “to take thee all in all, shall I see thy like again”; but never wilt thou cease to be regretted by all who had the pleasure of knowing thee. And for 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.’
There are now statues of Trim in Australia and in the U.K., both with and apart from his Captain.
Remember, as with all Night Owls, it’s an open thread. But in case everyone’s too tired to think of conversation starters, here’s your question of the night: What’s your favorite pet anecdote?