Sea History 176 - Autumn 2021

Page 46

Animals in Sea History

by Philippa Sandall

1803 was a momentous year for Matthew


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climb. Flinders tells us that what most attracted Trim’s attention were “the replacFlinders and his cat, Trim. In June they coming a top-mast carried away, or taking pleted the circumnavigation of Australia a reef in the sails....As soon as the ofaboard HMS Investigator. In August, sailficer had issued the word ‘Away up ing back to England on board HMS Poraloft!’ Up he jumped along with the poise, they were shipwrecked on a seamen, and so active and zealous coral bank in the Great Barrier Reef. was he, that none could reach the top Rescued two months later, they booked before, or so soon as he did.” passage home aboard another ship, but Going aloft on when they put into Port Louis, Mauritius, four legs is a breeze; in December for vital repairs, they were a coming down is not. taken prisoner. Mauritius was under y es rt u o It’s the claws that are c French control during this period, and the problem. Highly England had just declared war against Matthew Flinders and Trim useful to shimmy up France earlier that year. When Trim went missing a few months later, Flinders trees, trellises, and trouser legs, cats’ claws was devastated. As a midshipman, he had picked this tux- curve towards the back rather like built-in edo kitten out of a litter born on board HMS Reliance and crampons. Coming down, it’s hard to get sailed with him ever since. In his Biographical Tribute to the a grip, as claws point the wrong way. But, Memory of Trim (1809), he describes Trim as a favorite among if the cat falls, there’s a good chance it will all the crew, who took endless pleasure whirling a musket land on its feet. Eons of evolutionary history have enball slung with a piece of twine round upon the deck for him abled cats to turn right side up mid-air and to chase, and teaching him to leap over hands. While not a renowned water lover, the domestic cat stick a four-paw landing. This is because (Felis catus) took to life on the ocean waves thanks to a their vestibular system in the inner ear is natural agility and balance and having plenty of things to like having a built-in gyroscope. It tells a cat which way is up, no matter what position it was in when it started falling. A cat can fully turn over in its own standing height within a quarter to half a second, says Dr. Donald McDonald, who photographed falling cats with a high-speed camera at 1,500 frames per second. Cats have been welcome aboard ships for hundreds of years, as they proved to be indispensable pest controllers, protecting provisions and cargo from rats, those omnivorous eating machines that will devour everything from food rations to nonfood necessities, such as ropes, sails, and even the calloused skin on the soles of sleeping sailors’ feet. “Ten Old Salts” and their feline shipmate onboard USS Hartford*—1876. (*Read more about this famous US Navy ship on pages 28–33.)

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