Matthew Flinder biographical note on his cat Trim

[Isle of France, December 1809]


      I can never speak of cats without a sentiment of regret for
      my poor Trim, the favourite of all our ship's company on the
      Spyall. This good-natured purring animal was born on board His
      Majesty's ship the Roundabout in 1799 during a passage from
      the Cape of Good Hope to Botany Bay; and saving the rights and
      titles of the parish of Stepney, was consequently an Indian
      by birth. The signs of superior intelligence which marked his
      infancy, procured for him an education beyond what is usually
      bestowed upon the individuals of his tribe; and being brought
      up amongst sailors, his manners acquired a peculiarity of cant
      which rendered them as different from those of other cats, as
      the actions of a fearless seaman are from those of a lounging,
      shame-faced ploughboy; it was, however, from his gentleness
      and the innate goodness of his heart, that I gave him the
      name of my uncle Toby's honest, kind-hearted, humble companion.
      In playing with his little brothers and sisters upon deck by
      moonlight, when the ship was lying tranquilly in harbour, the
      energy and elasticity of his movements sometimes carried him
      so far beyond his mark, that he fell overboard; but 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:
In a short time he was able to mount up the gangway steps quicker
than his master, or even than the first lieutenant.
      Being a favourite with every one on board, both officers
      and seamen, he was well fed, and grew fat both in size and
      comeliness: A description of his person will not be misplaced
      here. From the care that was taken of him, and the force of his
      own constitution, Trim grew to be one of the finest animals
      I ever saw; his eyes even emulated that of his friends of
      Angora: his weight being from ten to twelve pounds according
      as our fresh-meatometer stood high or low. 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 physionomy
      [sic] bespoke intelligence and confidence, – wiskers
      [sic] 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 under lip, 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.
      Notwithstanding my great partiality to my friend Trim,
      strict justice obliges me to cite in this place a trait in
      his character which by many will be thought a blemish: He
      was, I am sorry to say it, excessively vain of his person,
      particularly of his snow-white feet. He would frequently place
      himself on the quarter deck before the officers, in the middle
      of their walk; and spreading out his two white hands in the
      posture of a lion couchant, oblige them to stop and admire
      him. They would indeed say low to each other, "See the
vanity of


vanity of that cat!" But they could not help admiring his graceful
form and beautiful white feet. Indeed when it is known, that to the
finest form ever beheld, he joined extraordinary personal and mental
qualifications, the impossibility that the officers could be angry
with him must be evident; and they were men of too much eloquent of
mind to be jealous of him. I would not be an advocate in the cause
of vanity; but if it is ever excusable, it was so in this case. How
many men are there, who have no claim either from birth, fortune, or
acquirements, personal or mental, whose vanity is not to be confined
within such harmless bounds, as was that of Trim! And I will say
for him, that he never spoke ill of or objected to the pretensions
of others, which is more than can be said for very many bipeds.
      Trim, though vain as we have seen, was not like those young
      men who, being assured of an independence, spend their youth
      in idle trifling, and consider all serious application as
      pedantic and derogatory, or at least to be useless; He was,
      on the contrary, animated with a noble zeal for the improvement
      of his faculties. His exercises commenced with the acquirement
      of the art of leaping over the hands; and as every man in
      the ship took pleasure in instructing him, he at length
      arrived to such a pitch of perfection, that I am persuaded,
      had nature placed him on the empire of Lilliput, his merit
      would have promoted him to the first offices in the state.
      He was taught to lie flat upon the deck on his back, with his
      four feet stretched out like one dead; and in this posture
      he would remain until a signal was given him to rise, whilst
      his preceptor resumed his walk backwards and forwards; if,
      however, he was kept in this position, which it must be
      confessed was not very agreeable to a quadruped, a slight
      motion at the end of his tail denoted the commencement of
      impatience, and his friends never pushed their lessons further.
      Trim took a fancy to nautical astronomy. When an officer
      took lunar or other observations, he would place himself
      by the time-keeper, and consider the motion of the hands,
      and apparently the uses of the instrument, with much earnest
      attention; he would try to touch the second hand, listen to
      the ticking, and walk all around the piece to assure himself
      whether or no it might not be a living animal. And mewing
      to the young gentleman whose business it was to mark down
      the time, seemed to ask an explanation. When the officer had
      made his observation, the cry of Stop! roused Trim from his
      meditation; he cocked his tail, and running up the rigging
      near to the officer, mewed to know the meaning of all those
      proceedings. Finding at length that nature had not designed him
      for an astronomer, Trim had too much good sense to continue a
      useless pursuit; but a musket ball slung with a piece of twine,
      and made to whirl round upon the deck by a slight motion of
      the finger, never failed to attract his notice, and to give
      him pleasure; perhaps from bearing a near resemblance to the
      movement of his favourite planet the moon, in her orbit around
      the primary which we inhabit. He was equally fond of making
      experiments upon projectile forces and the power of gravity:
      If a ball was thrown gently along the deck, he would pursue
      it and when the gravitating principle combined with the


with the friction overcame the impelling power, he would give the
ball a fresh impetus, but generally to turn its direction into
an elliptic curve; at other times the form of the earth appeared
to be the object of his experiments, and his ball was made to
describe an oblate spheroid. The seamen took advantage of this his
propensity to making experiments with globular bodies, and two of
them would often place themselves, one at each end of the forecastle,
and trundling a ball backwards and forwards from one to the other,
would keep Trim in constant action running after it; his admiration
of the planetary system having induced an habitual passion for every
thing round that was in motion. Could Trim have had the benefit of
an Orrery, [or even been present at Mr. (Walkers?) experiments in
natural philosophy,] there can be no doubt as to the progress he
would have made in the sublimest [sic] of sciences.Ω


His desire to gain a competent knowledge in practical seamanship, was
not less than he showed for experimental philosophy. The replacing
a top-mast carried away, or taking a reef in the sails were what
most attracted his attention at sea; and at all times when there
was more bustle on deck than usual, he never failed to be present
and in the midst of it; for as I have before hinted, he was endowed
with an unusual degree of confidence and courage, and having never
received anything good from men, he believed all to be his friends,
and he was the friend of all. When the nature of the bustle upon
the deck was not understood by him, he would mew and rub his back
up against the legs of one and another, frequently at the risk of
being trampled underfoot, until he obtained the attention of someone
to satisfy him. He knew what good discipline required, and on taking
in a reef, never presumed to go aloft until the order was issued; but
go as soon as the officer had issued the word – 'Away up aloft!'

Up he jumped along with the seamen, and so active and zealous was
he, that none could reach the top before, or so soon as he did. His
zeal, however, never carried him beyond a sense of his dignity;
he did not lay out on the yard like a common seaman, but always
remained seated upon the cap, to inspect like an officer. This
assumption of authority to which, it must be confessed, his rank,
though great as a quadraped, did not entitle him amongst men, created
no jealousy; for he always found some good friends to caress him
after the business was done, and to take him down in his arms.
-------------------------------------------------


ΩThe greatest discoveries are sometimes due to accident. It must
now be evident, that some celebrated cat of antiquity, perhaps one
of those which entered with Noah into the ark and from which Trim
was probably a descendent, gave rise, by the great profundity of
his meditations, to the personification of wisdom adopted in the
hyeroglyphic [sic] paintings and sculptures of the first ages. When
afterwards Minerva was made the emblem of wisdom, she was long
accompanied by a cat, to mark the attribute she represented; and
with all deference to the E A Ses, I presume to conjecture, that
it was not until about the time of Pericles, when all the divine
attributes were made to take a human form, that this Grecian divinity
could disperse with the presence of her companion. It was not the
presence of Minerva which shewed the cat to be the personification
of the wisdom of the great [illegible] or Jupiter, but that of the
cat which explained what Minerva was intended to represent. I could
go still further, and shew, that by a simple trans- [continued at
bottom of next page]


In harbour, the measuring of log and lead lines upon deck, and
the stowage of the holds below, were the favourite subjects of
his attention. No sooner was a cask moved, than he darted in under
it upon the enemies of his king and country, at the imminent risk
of having his head crushed to atoms, which he several times very
narrowly escaped. In the bread room he was still more indefatigable;
he frequently solicited to be left there alone and in the dark,
for two or three days together, that nothing might interrupt him
in the discharge of his duty. This is one of the brightest traits
in my friends Trim's character, and would indeed do honour to any
character. In making the following deductions from it I shall not,
I think, be accused of an unjust partiality. 1st it must be evident
that he had no fear of evil spirits; and consequently that he had
a conscience above reproach. [there follow five lines of text that
Flinders has crossed out and are illegible]         2nd It is clear
that he possessed a degree of patience and perseverance, of which few
men can boast; and 3rd that like a faithful subject, he employed all
these estimable qualities in the service of His Majesty's faithful
servants, and indirectly of His Majesty himself. Alas! my poor
Trim thy extraordinary merit required only to be known, in order
to excite universal admiration.
      Trim was admitted upon the table of almost every officer
      and man in the ship: In the gunroom he was always the first
      ready for dinner; but though he was commonly seated a quarter
      of an hour before any other person, his modest reserve was
      such that his voice was not heard until every body else was
      served. He then put in his request, not for a full allowance,
      he was too modest, – nor did he desire there should be
      laid for him a plate, knife, fork, or spoon with all which he
      could very well dispense; – but by a gentle caressing mew,
      he petitioned for a little, little bit, a kind of tythe from
      the plate of each, and it was to no purpose to refuse it, for
      Trim was enterprising in time of need, as he was gentle and
      well bred in ordinary times. Without the greatest attention to
      each morsel, in the person whom he had petioned [sic] in vain;
      he would whip it off the fork with his paw, on it's passage
      to the mouth, with such dexterity and an air so graceful,
      that it rather excited admiration than anger. He did not,
      however, leap off the table with his prize, as if he had done
      wrong; but putting the morsel into his mouth and eating it
      quietly, would go to the next person and repeat his little
      mew: if refused his wonted tythe, he stood ready to take
      all advantages. There are some men so inconsiderate as to be
      talking when they should be eating, —who keep their meat
      suspended in mid-air till a semi-colon in the discourse gives
      an opportunity of taking their mouthful without interrupting
      their story. Guests of this description were a dead mark for
      Trim: when a short pause left them time to take the prepared
-------------------------------------------------
simple transformation of all the letters [illegible -
'Sofia'?] wisdom/and [illegible - 'Felis'?] (cat, domestic happiness)
have the same etimological [sic] root, or are rather identically
the same word. It would be worth enquiry to know whether this holds
good in the Cophtic, Phenician and Chinese languages.


prepared mouthful,they were often surprised to find the meat gone,
they could not tell how.
      Trim had one day missed a fine morsel from the hungry
      activity of one of the young gentlemen (the present captain
      D.) who dined in the gunroom; seeing him, however, talking
      and eating at the same time, my persevering gentleman did
      not give it up, though the piece was half masticated and
      only waited for a piece to disappear; but running up the
      waistcoat of our unsuspecting guest, for Trim was then but
      a kitten, and placing one paw at each corner of his mouth,
      he laid vigourous [sic] siege to his morsel; and whilst the
      astonished midshipman inarticulately exclaimed, G_d d__n the
      cat! Trim fairly took the piece out of his mouth and carried
      it off. This was pushing his enterprises too far, and he
      therefore received a reprimand which prevented them in future.
      The gunroom steward was, however, more particularly Trim's
      confident; and though he had dined with the masters, he was not
      too proud to sit down a second time with the servant. William
      had such an opinion of Trim's intelligence, that he talked
      to him as to his child, whilst my four-footed master looking
      up in his face, seemed to understand him and to give rational
      answers. They had the following conversation after dinner on
      the day of Trim's audacious enterprise just related:
    Do you know master Trim that you have behaved very ill? ——
    Me-ew?
    It is very well to play your tricks with those that you know,
    but you should be more modest with strangers.——Mew!
    How dare you say that I gave you no breakfast? Did I not give you
    all the milk that was left, and some bread soaked in it? ——
    Mou wow!
    No meat! What! you grow insolent? I'll chain you up; do you
    hear sir? — Me-ew.
    Well if you promise to behave better, you shall have a nice
    piece of the cold steak of mutton for your supper, — you
    shall ——— Mew –wew!!
Gently master Trim. I'll give it to you now, but first promise me
upon your honour. Me-wee.
    Come then my good boy, come up and kiss me.
Trim leaped up on his shoulder and rubbing his face up against
William's cheek, received the mutton, piece by piece out of his
mouth.
      In an expedition to examine the northern parts of the coast of
      New South Wales, Trim presented a request to be of the party,
      promising to take upon himself the defence of our bread bags,
      and his services were accepted. Bongaree an intelligent native
      of Port Jackson, was also on board our little sloop, and with
      Trim formed an intimate acquaintance. If he had occasion to
      drink, he mewed to Bongaree and leaped up to the water cask;
      if to eat, he called him down below and went strait [sic]
      to his kid, where there was generally a remnant of black
      swan. In short, Bongaree was his great resource, and his
      kindness was repaid with caresses. In times of danger, Trim
      never shewed any signs of fear, and it may be truly said,
      that he never distrusted or was afraid of any man.
      In 1800, the Roundabout returned to England by the way of Cape
      Horn and St. Helena, and thus Trim, besides his other voyages,
      completed the tour of the globe. Many and curious are the
      observations which he made in various branches of science,
      particularly in the natural history


natural history of small quadrupeds, birds and flying fish,
for which he had much taste. These with his remarks upon men
and manners, if future leisure should enable me to put them into
order, I may perhaps give to the world; and from the various seas
and countries he has visited, joined to his superior powers for
distinguishing obscure subjects, and talents for seizing them,
these observations may be expected to be more interesting than the
imaginary adventures of your guineas, shillings, or half-pence,
and to possess more originality than the Turkish spy.
      Trim was not only a stranger to England, but also to a house
      and to the manner of living in it: The king of Bantam's
      ambassador was not more inexperienced in these matters than
      he. I took a lodging for him at Deptford, placing him under
      the guardianship of the good woman of the house, who promised
      to instruct him in the usages of Terra Firma; but she knew not
      what she had undertaken. He would go out at the sash window
      to the top of the house, for the convenience of making his
      observations on the surrounding country more at ease; –
      it came on to rain, – the sash was put down. This would
      have been an invincible obstacle to other cats, but not so
      to Trim: He bolted through the glass like a clap of thunder,
      to the great alarm of the good hostess below. "Good God Trim",
      exclaimed she on entering the chamber, "is it thee? They said
      thou wast a strange outlandish cat, and verily I think thou
      art the divil [sic] : I must shut thee up, for if thou go'st
      to treat neighbours thus, I shall have thee taken up for a
      burglary. But come, I know thy master will pay the damage:
      hast thou cut thyself?"
      Woe to the good woman's china, if Trim got into her
      closet. Your delicate town bred cats go mincing in amongst
      cup and saucers without touching them; but Trim! If he spied a
      mouse there he dashed at it like a man of war, through thick
      and thin: the splinters flew in all directions. The poor woman
      at first thought an evil spirit was playing his pranks in her
      cupboard; – she opens the door with fear and trembling;
      when, to her infinite dismay, out jumps my black gentleman
      upon her shoulder: she was well neigh dead with fear. Seeing
      how much mischief was done to her dear china, the pride of
      her heart, she seized Trim to beat him soundly; but instead
      of trying to escape, the droll animal rubs his wiskers [sic]
      up against her chin and falls to purring. She had no longer
      the heart to strike him; but after a moment's hesitation,
      she heaved a sigh and picked up the pieces.
      I took him up to London in the stagecoach, and as there were
      no fine ladies to be frightened at the presence of a strange
      cat, he was left at full liberty. He was not in the least
      disconcerted by the novelty of his situation; but placing
      himself upon the seat, and stretching
out his white paws, conducted himself ^ reasonably like any other
passenger, to the admiration of the two gentlemen who did not cease
to make inquiries concerning his education, manners, and adventures,
during the whole way to town.
      A worthy acquaintance in London took Trim into, his family,
      but he soon requested me to take him back, for "such a strange
      animal", said he, "I never saw. I am afraid of losing him:
      He goes out into the streets in the middle of the day, and
      rubs himself against the legs of people passing by. Several
      have taken him up to caress him, but I fear some one will be
      carrying him off." I took him on board the Spyall to make a
      second voyage to the


to the South Seas. Trim now found himself at home; and his gentleness
and extraordinary confidence, joined to the amusement his droll
antics furnished them, soon made him as great a favourite with his
new shipmates, as he had been on board the Roundabout. We had several
dogs on board the Spyall, but Trim was undisputed master of them
all. When they were at play upon the deck, he would go in amongst
them with his stately air; and giving a blow at the eyes of one,
and a scratch on the nose to another, oblige them to stand out of
his way. He was capable of being animated against a dog, as dogs
usually may be against a cat; and I have more than once sent him
from the quarter deck to drive a dog off the forecastle. He would
run half the way briskly, crouching like a lion which has prey in
view; but then assuming a majestic deportment, and without being
deterred by the menacing attitude of his opponent, he would march
straight up to him, and give him a blow on the nose, accompanied
by a threatening mew! If the dog did not immediately retreat, he
flew at him with his warcry of Yow! If resistance was still made,
he leaped up on the rail over his head and so bespattered him about
the eyes that he was glad to run off howling. Trim pursued him till
he took refuge below; and then returned smiling to his master to
receive his caresses.
      During our circumnavigation of Australia in the years 1801,
      2 and 3, Trim had frequent opportunities of repeating his
      observations and experiments in his favourite science, natural
      history, and of exerting his undiminished activity and zeal
      for the public good. In the Gulph of Carpentaria, from the
      unhealthiness of the climate, the want of his usual fresh food,
      and perhaps from too much application to study, this worthy
      creature became almost grey, lost much of weight, and seemed
      to be threatened with a premature old age; but to the great
      joy of his friends, he re-assumed his fine black robe and his
      accustomed portliness, a short time after returning to harbour.
      Only once was Trim known to be guilty of theft: he had a soul
      above it; but one unlucky afternoon, a cold leg of mutton in
      the pantry tempted him. Being unable to carry it himself, he
      got the assistance of Van, a Dutch cat on board; and they had
      so far succeeded as to get it down off the shelf, and were
      dragging it together into the hold; when lo!, the steward
      came and surprised them in the fact. Van made his escape,
      but Trim, ever confident, made no efforts, and was seized and
      beaten soundly. He took the blows with philosophical patience;
      but no sooner was he set at liberty, than he ran after his
      false Dutch friend, and repaid him with interest the beating
      he had received. The recital of this unfortunate anecdote
      of my friend Trim, will I hope be received as a proof of the
      impartiality of this history; and I advertize the reader not
      to seek in it for any political allegory; but to be assured,
      that the facts were really such as they are here related.
      The Spy-all being found to be rotten, Trim embarked onboard
      His Majesty's ship the Janty to return to England, and was
      shipwrecked with us upon a coral bank in the Great Equinoxial
      Ocean on the night of Aug. 17. 1802. The imagination can
      scarcely attain to what Trim had to suffer during this
      dreadful night, but his courage was not beat down. He got to
      Wreck-Reef Bank with the crew, and passed there two long and
      dreary months; during which his zeal in the provision tent was
      not less than it had been in the bread room, and his manners
      preserved all their amiability. When vessels arrived to our as-
sistance


sistance, Trim preferred following his master on board the Minikin
schooner, to going with the rest of the ship's company to China
in a large vessel, giving thereby a memorable example of faithful
attachment. The Minikin being very leaky, was obliged to stop at the
Isle of France; and there poor Trim, his master and a few followers
were all made prisoners; under the pretext that they had come to
spy out the nakedness of the land; though it was clear as day,
that they knew nothing of the war that had taken place a few months
before. Trim was confined in a room with his master and another
officer, and ^ as he possessed more philosophy than ^ we did,
he contributed by his gay humour to soften our strait captivity;
but sometimes also he contrived to elude the vigilance of the
sentinel at the door, and left to make little temporary excursions
in the neighbourhood. It is probable that he made some new secret
acquaintances in these visits, for they became more frequent than
was prudent; and for ^ fear of accident, we were obliged to shut
him up after supper.
      On our being removed to the Maison Despeaux amongst the
      prisoners of war, a French lady offered to be Trim's security,
      in order to have him for a companion to her little daughter;
      and the fear of some clandestine proceedings on the part of
      the soldiers of the guard, induced me to comply, on finding
      it would give no umbrage to His Excellency the French governor
      and captain-general. A fortnight had scarcely passed, when the
      public gazette of the island announced that he was no where
      to be found; and offered a reward of ten Spanish dollars to
      any one who would conduct him back to his afflicted little
      mistress. My sorrow may be better conceived than described;
      I would with pleasure have given fifty dollars to have had my
      friend and companion restored to me. All research and offers
      of recompense were in vain, poor Trim was effectually lost;
      and it is but too probable, that this excellent unsuspecting
      animal was stewed and eaten by some hungry black slave,
      in whose eyes all his merits could not balance against the
      avidity excited by his sleek body and fine furred skin.
      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 the memory and record thy uncommon merits. And
      this shall be thy epitaph.


                    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.
  Returning to Europe in 1803, he was shipwrecked
          in the Great Equinoxial Ocean;
  This danger escaped, he sought refuge and assistance
            at the Isle of France, where
      he was made prisoner, contrary to the laws of
            Justice, of Humanity, and of
              French National Faith;
    and where, alas! he terminated his useful career,
  by an untimely death, being devoured by the Catophagi of
                      that island.
  Many a time have I beheld his little merriments with delight,
      and his superior intelligence with surprise:
          Never will his like be seen again!
  Trim was born in the Southern Indian Ocean, in the year 1799,
        and perished as above at the Isle of France
                        in 1804.


              Peace be to his shade, and
                Honour to his memory

The url of this page is http://qseries.org/fgarvan/fgarvan/trim.html.
Created by F.G. Garvan (fgarvan@ufl.edu) on Monday, December 31, 2018.
Last update made Mon Dec 31 19:07:38 EST 2018.


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