Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces federal government funding for the Cooktown 2020 festival. Picture: Brendan Radke
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces federal government funding for the Cooktown 2020 festival. Picture: Brendan Radke

How ScoMo’s Captain Cook call can regain relevance

Given we're playing mix and match with our history by sending a replica Endeavour to circumnavigate Australia when it was actually Matthew Flinders' HMS Investigator which first sailed around the continent, then a cat and a young Aboriginal man need to be included in the equation at the very least to reanimate (and render more authentic) a fascinating chapter in our past.

The cat, a beloved pet of navigator Matthew Flinders, and the Aboriginal man, Bungaree, an intelligent and funny mimic from Port Jackson who often performed satirical takeoffs of Australia's early governors, formed an unlikely friendship just as Australia was kicking off its European' version of history.

Matthew Flinders was actually the first to sail around Australia, not Captain Cook.
Matthew Flinders was actually the first to sail around Australia, not Captain Cook.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's announcement at the start of the year that a replica of Captain Cook's Endeavour will circumnavigate Australia as part of celebrations to mark 250 years since the British explorer's arrival has been heavily criticised in some quarters.

But it's unthinkable this nation would let such a pivotal anniversary in our history go unmarked, and sending off the Endeavour on a round-Australia trip is one way of allowing millions of Australians to get a glimpse of seafaring life in those years of early exploration.

Morrison knew full well that it was not Cook but Matthew Flinders who circumnavigated Australia on HMS Investigator between 1801 and 1803, with Cook confining his navigations to the east coast throughout 1770.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison with the recovered anchor from Captain Cook's Endeavour in the James Cook Museum in Cooktown. Picture: Brendan Radke
Prime Minister Scott Morrison with the recovered anchor from Captain Cook's Endeavour in the James Cook Museum in Cooktown. Picture: Brendan Radke

"But we're one large country and it's important that the lessons and the stories that came out of that experience along the east coast of Australia is shared with the rest of the country,'' Morrison said after announcing the plans which includes 39 stops along the way, all funded by a $6.7 million grant to the Australian National Maritime Museum.

But if we really want to re-live those few decades when Europeans arrived in Australia around the turn of the 19th Century, we need to include in the Endeavour's crew a small black cat with a dash of white under his lip and his "four feet dipped in snow''.

That was Trim - Matthew Flinders's cat - the first feline in recorded history to have completed a circumnavigation of Australia and a cat with such a remarkable personality Flinders wrote a book about him.

The replica of James Cook's HMS Endeavour, moored at the Australian National Maritime Museum. This year marks 250 years since the British explorer’s arrival in Australia. Picture: supplied
The replica of James Cook's HMS Endeavour, moored at the Australian National Maritime Museum. This year marks 250 years since the British explorer’s arrival in Australia. Picture: supplied

History may have its grand sweeps and epic narratives but it also contains some charming anecdotes which give insight into the characters of the principal players.

It's Trim who best brings Flinders back to life, fleshing out an amiable and affectionate spirit possessed of a keen sense of humour.

Trim was born in 1797 on the HMS Reliance during a passage from the Cape of Good Hope to Botany Bay and impressed the sailors when he fell overboard while playing with his siblings on deck, yet still managed to grab a rope flung overboard to rescue him.

"He took hold of it like a man, and ran up it like a cat,'' Flinders recalled in the book A Biographical Tribute to the Memory of Trim.

A statue of Matthew Flinders’ cat, Trim. If we really want to make the latter day Endeavour journey more authentic, a feline should be on board. Picture: Bernard Humphreys
A statue of Matthew Flinders’ cat, Trim. If we really want to make the latter day Endeavour journey more authentic, a feline should be on board. Picture: Bernard Humphreys

According to Flinders the highly intelligent cat took a fancy to nautical astronomy.

"When an officer took lunar or other observations, he would place himself by the timekeeper, and consider the motion of the hands, and apparently the uses of the instrument, with much earnest attention,'' Flinders wrote.

In 1799 Flinders took Trim on his exploration into present day Queensland.

Trim befriended Bungaree, an indigenous man from Port Jackson who accompanied the crew on the sloop Norfolk.

"With him, (Bungaree) Trim formed an intimate acquaintance,'' Flinders wrote.

Bungaree was also a pivotal part of the journey undertaken by Matthew Flinders, and his role in history should be acknowledged.
Bungaree was also a pivotal part of the journey undertaken by Matthew Flinders, and his role in history should be acknowledged.

"If he had occasion to drink, he mewed to Bungaree and leapt up to the water cask; if to eat, he called him down below and went straight to his kit.

"In short, Bungaree was his great resource, and his kindness was repaid with caresses.''

The friendship continued as both Bungaree and Trim joined Flinders on the Investigator in 1801 for the first circumnavigation of the continent.

Bungaree died in 1830 and was buried at Rose Bay. A portrait of him by Charles Rodius hangs in the Public Library of New South Wales.

Trim died in 1804 while Flinders was held prisoner in Mauritius by the French. There's a statute of him on window ledge outside Sydney's Mitchell Library.

They may be two largely unheralded figures in our nation's history.

But it may be worth rekindling their charming presence in those early years of exploration, if only to highlight the good humour, affection and generosity of spirit which, along with the darker side, was unquestionably part of Australia's colonial past.

Michael Madigan is a columnist for The Courier-Mail.

@madiganm

The remains and coffin of Captain Matthew Flinders were recently discovered in central London. (Picture: James O. Jenkins/AP
The remains and coffin of Captain Matthew Flinders were recently discovered in central London. (Picture: James O. Jenkins/AP


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