Outside Sydney’s Mitchell Library stands a statue of Matthew Flinders, the celebrated English navigator and cartographer who helped map Australia, declared it a continent, and was influential in giving it its current name. On a window ledge behind the statue stands a bronze figurine of Flinders’s faithful cat, Trim, who accompanied the seafarer on many of his adventures.
The story of Trim begins in 1799, when he was born aboard the ship HMS Reliance as it sailed from the Cape of Good Hope to Botany Bay. There were a handful of cats on board to keep pests at bay, but Trim soon became a favorite of the crew and the ship’s 25-year-old lieutenant, Flinders.
Flinders’s respect for the kitten grew after he witnessed the adventurous feline’s bravery and determination. When the young cat fell overboard, Flinders later noted how “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.”
And so began a relationship between one man and his cat, full of seaborne adventures and mishaps. When Flinders was given command of HMS Investigator in 1801, Trim was by his side. In 1802, they completed the first circumnavigation of Australia. Two years later, Flinders and Trim survived the shipwreck of the HMS Porpoise on the Great Barrier Reef while returning to England as passengers.
After surviving the shipwreck, Flinders took command of the HMS Cumberland to return to England. But when he docked at the French-controlled Isle de France (now Mauritius) for repairs in 1803, the dastardly French detained him. War had recently broken out between France and the United Kingdom, but Flinders hoped the scientific nature of his mission would give him free passage. His hopes were dashed and he was imprisoned as a spy.
The ever loyal Trim stayed with his friend during his captivity, although, as Flinders later 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 neighbourhood.” He would, however, shut Trim in after supper so that no harm came to him.
But in 1804, Trim disappeared during one of his wanderings, never to be seen again. Flinders surmised that his beautiful black and white cat had been stolen and eaten by a hungry slave. Saddened and imprisoned, Flinders could only lament the loss of the “sporting, affectionate and useful companion of my voyages during four years.”
Flinders remained a captive on the Isle de France for six years, although he was given greater freedom to move around the island in the latter years. He wrote at length during this time, including a four-and-a-half thousand word biographical tribute to Trim, which was only found among his papers in 1971.
Since the discovery of Flinders’ tribute to Trim and its wider publication, the two friends have been reunited in various statues. Trim stands at the feet of Flinders in a statue in Donington, Lincolnshire, where Flinders was born. And in Port Lincoln, South Australia, Trim is again represented at the feet of a kneeling Flinders.
The bronze statue of Flinders outside the Mitchell Library in Sydney was inaugurated in 1925, long before the discovery of Flinders’ tribute to Trim. The bronze figurine of Trim was added to the window ledge behind the statue in 1996.
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.”
Know Before You Go
The statue of Trim the Cat is located along Macquarie Street outside the Mitchell Library in Sydney. You’ll see the large statue of Matthew Flinders first. Trim stands on the window ledge behind the statue of Flinders.