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The Cat that Walked the Planks
Two Remarkable Characters in the Panoply of Life
Cats have provided company to men in all sorts of circumstances
In earlier times, wooden sailing ships presented a wonderful alternative lifestyle for rodents who enjoyed traveling in a home ideally suited to their needs. Many vessels carried an edible cargo and they all carried victuals for the crew. All this largess was stored in gloomy, warm holds full of nooks and crannies where colonies of mice and rats live, loved and bred, as these enterprising creatures always do.
Seamen didn’t have time to chase crafty rodents up and down the ship so this job was often left to the ship’s cat, or cats, who either kept the numbers down or at least prevented them from being in the skipper’s sight so often and sending him into impotent fury.
Such a humble feline was the tom cat, Trim, who belonged to Captain Mathew Flinders, the British explorer.
In a partnership that lasted some five years, Flinders and the faithful Trim traveled the high seas for many thousand miles, sharing some rather incredible adventures.
You may remember from Geography One, that Flinders was the first mariner to chart the coast of Australia, braving some of the roughest and most dangerous waters on the planet. He recorded his experiences in the book published after his death,”Terra Australis,” Latin being de rigueur for non-fiction authors back then to add an intellectual gloss to their work.
The pair then returned to Britain, a journey in those times that called for three months of peril and hardship on a pitching wooden vessel. We might consider this as we skim over the oceans in our Boeing from the Uk to Oz in a matter of hours.
Women and cats have a special affinity not granted to mere males, and Trim was made welcome by Mrs. Flinders, who may well have concealed some feeling of envy at the cat seeing far more of her adventurous spouse than she ever did.
Around that time - 1802 - 1815 - we were beating up on the French, a national pastime that has hardly eased today, although words have replaced muskets and grape-shot. Flinders and Trim ran the gauntlet of French ships in the Channel and set sail for the Antipodes again; three more months of gales and killer waves, to finally drop the hook in Encounter Bay, finding, to his surprise, several French ships had arrived before him…he recorded their meeting was “cordial,” perhaps due to his charming “chat.".
The intrepid pair then survived a ship-wreck of the “Porpoise,” and another close brush with drowning as the “Cumberland” had to put into Mauritius before it foundered. Flinders had to swallow some British pride as he called on the French there for aid.
But the brave captain’s luck had run out and the French decided he was an enemy and a spy to boot! This spelled seven years in captivity for Flinders, but the end for poor Trim. Flinders returned to retire in England after his release and began write his memoirs.
During his incarceration at French hands, Flinders offset his boredom by writing a journal: in it, there is mention of his long time companion.
“My beloved Trim disappeared in mysterious circumstance,” he chronicled. “It must have been an untimely death as he was probably eaten by the Catophagi.” (natives of the island)
Flinders also expressed the wish Trim should be immortalized in some small monument, writing, “I hope (such a monument) would call attention to Trim’s ‘little merriment with delight, and to his superior intelligence with surprise‘.”
Joining the Captain by his monument in Sydney - two hundred years after his emotive wish and 78 years after his own monument was put in place - there now stands a life-sized statue of his cat cast in bronze!
But savvy Trim has found a resting place inside the library! Let Captain Matt stand outside and brave the winds and rain of temperate new South Wales…I’m in here checking on the library mice!
Author: We seem to have a slew of cat articles, poetry and hubbers with “cat avatars.” Isn’t that great!! Meow!