Trim, the Cartographer’s Cat: The Ship’s Cat Who Helped Matthew Flinders Map Australia

by Matthew Flinders, Philippa Sandall and Gillian Dooley, with illustrations by Ad Long and a foreword by Julian Stockwin

Adlard Coles (Bloomsbury), 2019, 128 pp., ISBN: 9781472967206, h/bk, AUS$22.49

Trim, one of the world’s most famous seafaring cats, sets sail again in Trim, the Cartographer’s Cat. 

Matthew Flinders is famous for completing the first circumnavigation of the continent that he would call “Australia”. The young naval officer was given instructions, in early 1801, ‘to explore in detail, among other places, that part of the south Australian coastline then referred to as ‘the Unknown Coast’, to document its flora and fauna (p.113), and to circumnavigate The Great South Land, which he completed in 1803. Flinders was one of 88 men on board his ship, the HMS Investigator. The crew included Bungaree of the Kuringgai people (custodians of the Broken Bay area, north of Sydney), scientific staff, and Flinders’ faithful furry friend, Trim.

The black and white cat lost his life while his master, who had been accused of spying, was incarcerated on Mauritius. Flinders’ grief is palpable in his work A Biographical Tribute to the Memory of Trim (1809), a moving reflection that has been faithfully reproduced in this small book. In this publication the story of Trim, ‘the best and most illustrious of his Race’ (p.50), benefits from careful footnoting to unpack the various literary allusions and to explain the various nautical terms that Flinders—cartographer and catographer—used in this work.

Flinders’ account is supported by an informative essay by Gillian Dooley that offers some context to the story of Trim and looks at not only what the Biographical Tribute reveals about a much-loved companion but what, too, this beautiful snippet of literature reveals about its author. Through this short work, the manuscript of which is only six pages in length (p.11), Flinders ‘revealed a side of himself that we wouldn’t otherwise suspect had ever existed’ (p.59). There is also a whimsical response ‘by Trim’ about his ‘Seafurring Adventures with Matt Flinders’ (p.65), in which the ‘Seven Secrets of the Successful Hunter’ are shared. These are: ‘Be prepared. Plan ahead. Be patient. Persevere. Be fit for the task. Maintain a healthy life balance. Practice makes perfect’ (p.81). Most excellent advice.

One of the great joys of this edition of Trim’s story is the suite of delightful illustrations by Ad Long. There is a wonderful attention to detail in each drawing, even the page numbers are offered against a background of the silhouette of a cat’s head. There is, too, a good selection of images from a few of the collections that hold resources documenting Flinders’ life and work.

There is a useful timeline of Flinders’ major journeys with Trim (pp.111–16). There are also notes, picture credits and a basic index. Trim, The Cartographer’s Cat will slip easily into the paws of readers who enjoy stories of adventure and of friendship. Those who admire the felis catus and their antics—from playing games to stealing food—will surely feel compelled to add this little volume to their book collection.

Reviewed by Dr Rachel Franks, October 2019

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