Cats! Gods in Egypt, protectors of the Colosseum in Rome, of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, scattered all around the Greek islands keeping the ancient altars safe.  

Cat sitting on grass, between 1900 and 1930?; H2013.102/22

Cat on stool-Sonning, Bickleigh Vale, Victoria, ca.1930- ca.1960. Photo by Edna Walling. This work is in copyright; H41990.1/1

It is only natural to have one involved in the making of the first map of the Australian coastline. He is Trim, beloved cat of Matthew Flinders, a fearless and adventurous cat, who accompanied Flinders on his voyages to circumnavigate and map the coastline of Australia from 1801 to 1803.  

Matthew Flinders, 1870; H12093

Trim was born on board the ship Reliance in 1799 during a passage from the Cape of Good Hope to Botany Bay 1. In 1802 Trim and his good friend and master, Matthew Flinders, came ashore at Port Phillip Bay. It was one of the few places where Flinders actually came ashore during his voyage along the Southern Australian coastline almost 220 years ago. We could say that Trim was the first cat to walk on Australian land, in Victoria, but we don’t know that for sure. What we know is that this is the first documented evidence of a cat on Australian shores. 

Flinder’s chart of Terra Australis, 19–

Together they survived a Pacific voyage, the circumnavigation of Australia and a shipwreck. When Flinders was imprisoned by the French in Mauritius in 1803, Trim shared his captivity until one day he mysteriously disappeared.  

Heartbroken, Flinders, still in captivity, wrote a book called “Trim”. This ode to this much-loved ship’s cat will warm the heart of any cat lover. The first part of the book reproduces Flinders’ own whimsical tribute to Trim and contains the most warm and lovely description of the cat: 

His head was small and round, whiskers 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 2.

The book next discusses where Flinders was when he wrote his tribute and why, and what his letters and journals from that time tell us about his ‘sporting, affectionate and useful companion’. He also tells us stories about Trim, how he befriended all the sailors, especially the cook, and how all of them loved and appreciated his wit. Finally, we learn what Trim’s views on all of this might have been, in a fun and fanciful observation on his premature epitaph. This book can be read at the State Library Victoria.

Drawing from Trim, 1977, by A. Macarthur-Onslow. This work is in copyright – used here with permission of the artist.

We can also find articles on Trove about the adventures of this brave and amiable cat that supervised the “truly epic exploits in the foundation of this nation” 3

Drawing from Trim by A. Macarthur-Onslow, 1977, appearing in The Canberra Times, 29 October 1977, p 14

And in an epic end for an epic cat, Trim is probably the only cat that has not one, but six memorial statues. This includes one outside Euston Station in London, proudly unveiled by Prince William on the bicentenary of Matthew Flinders’ death – 19 July 2014 4

Matthew Flinders and his cat, Trim. Photo by Jenny Scott. State Library of South Australia; SLSA [B 77617] 

I would like to thank Ms. Annette Macarthur-Onslow for giving us, State Library Victoria, the permission to use her illustrations in this article.

  1. Flinders, M, 1977, Trim, Collins, Sydney
  2. See above, p. 7
  3. Cranston, F, 1977, ‘Mariner’s Cat‘, The Canberra Times, 29 October, p 14
  4. Wikipedia, 2021, Trim (cat), viewed 20 August, 2029, <>

This article has 1 comment

  1. Thank you Ana, what a lovely post! Trim must have been a fine fellow indeed. I can well imagine how bereft Matthew must have been when Trim disappeared in Mauritius. Perhaps he thought Flinders had been given a life sentence and decided to continue his adventures alone.

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