by Matthew Flinders

Angus & Robertson: 1997
$14.95, 51pp.
ISBN: 0091814618

Review by Samson

Ann Skea is author of Ted Hughes: The Poetic Quest (UNE Press, Australia)

When this book appeared in my house and I saw Captain Trim's portrait on the cover, naturally, I pounced on it.

Many mice ago, when I was a kitten, tales of Captain Trim's seafaring adventures would make my whiskers curl and my fur bristle. Cap'n Trim was my hero. And our mother used to hint, when she told us the stories, that her great, great, grandmother, the esteemed Mehitabel, once had a romantic liaison with the gallant Captain. "Of course", Ma would purr, silkily, "Mehitabel did have a wonderful imagination".

Be that as it may, we kittens knew that Cap'n Trim's blood ran in our veins. We would race up the curtains pretending to be Trim leading his crew up the rigging. And we spent many hours practising his superior methods of dog-control, some of which are well described in this book.

Not all humans, it seems, are as dumb as they look. Trim's adopted human, Captain Matthew Flinders R.N., was clever enough to note Trim's "superior intelligence" and his "innate goodness of heart" and he was a faithful friend. Between 1799 and 1804 he chose to accompany Trim on his voyages to Australia and around the world. He suffered malnutrition, illness and shipwreck with him, and he was imprisoned with him by the French on the island of Mauritius.

Flinders' memoir of his travels with Captain Trim is remarkably perceptive. To be sure, there is a certain arrogance in his misinterpretation of their respective roles, but that is only human. Trim, as Flinders records admiringly, was not only fit and handsome, he also knew how to run a tight ship. He would personally supervise the ship's provisioning, and paid close attention to "the measuring of log and lead lines upon deck, and the stowage of the holds below". At sea, he took a close interest in the crew's diet, regularly sharing his meals with both officers and men. And his skill at celestial navigation and his checking of the ship's instruments was exemplary.

Flinders must have been a remarkable human. Not only did he write this elegant memoir of Captain Trim whilst he was imprisoned, but he was also a skilful navigator, explorer and cartographer. I believe his Australian charts and journals became quite famous. His book gives us a remarkably personal account of Captain Trim, and there are even a couple of scurrilous anecdotes which confirm Trim's often rumoured ineptitude on land. But Flinders clearly did not know of Trim's further adventures after their parting, for he wrote of him as having been "devoured by the Catophogi" of Mauritius, and he ended his dedication: "Peace be to his shade, and honour to his memory". Mehitabel, I am sure, could have vouched for Captain Trim's continuing survival. What a pity she never mentioned him to her writer friend, Archy.

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