Great Cats of History, Part 2

Great Cats of History, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Great Cats of History! If you missed Part 1, click here to read about the cats of Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Unsinkable Sam. Read on for three more amazing cats who’ve made their mark on history and linger in our memories.

 

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PANGUR BÁN

Little is known about Pangur Bán, a cat whose name means “Fair” Pangur. (Pangur is old Irish for Fuller, if you want the complete translation.) We do know that his owner was an Irish monk and scholar who lived some time in the 9th century, and most often called his cat simply Pangur. Why do we know this? Easy. His nameless owner wrote a poem full of delight for his cat and comparing his cat’s hunts to his own scholarly work. He also wrote this poem in the margins of a manuscript he was working on – I guess scrap paper was at a bit of a premium back then! You can find several excellent translations of the monk’s poem with a quick Google search, but here’s one of my favorites.

TRIM

Trim is most famously referred to as the cat who circumnavigated the globe and Australia (several times!) with his owner, Captain Matthew Flinders. Trim was born at sea in 1790 during one of Flinders’ voyages, and immediately distinguished himself from the other kittens by being bold and vivacious. Trim was jet black, with white paws, chin, and starburst on his chest. It wasn’t just his Captain who was in love with him; Trim enchanted the entire crew. They doted upon him, and taught him tricks – he entertained them in turn, and they improvised cat toys by rolling a ball across the deck or swinging a musket ball from a bit of twine.

Statue of Matthew Flinders' cat Trim now stands behind Matthew's own statue in Sydney. Picture taken in December, 2005. пан Бостон-Київський 06:46, 25 January 2006 (UTC)
Statue of Matthew Flinders’ cat Trim now stands behind Matthew’s own statue in Sydney. Picture taken in December, 2005. пан Бостон-Київський 06:46, 25 January 2006 (UTC)

We’re lucky to have such a wealth of information about Trim’s character: Captain Matthew Flinders wrote an essay about his beloved cat, entitled A Biographical Tribute to the Memory of Trim. From that essay comes many amusing anecdotes, some of which are familiar to any cat-lover who’s had an imperious and demanding kitty in their lives before. For example: at dinner time on ship each night, Trim would quietly await all the officers on top of the dining table. He would wait until all were served, and then go to each person in turn and request his share with a touch of his paw. Most officers would give him a morsel of food from their plates; those who didn’t would find their meat whisked right off their forks with incredible agility and swiftness. (My own Daenerys is kin to Trim in that respect: if you’re distracted for one moment, she’s likely to snatch your dinner roll right out of your hand!)

Trim was a good-sized cat, weighing between 10-12 pounds in his prime, and enjoyed blocking crewmen’s ways until they admired him and gave him due petting. As a kitten, he would fall overboard an alarming amount, but was always okay – as Captain Flinders put it, when thrown a rope, Trim “took hold of it like a man and ran up it like a cat.” Trim would oversee the hoisting of the sails, and keep close watch of the ship’s timepiece to ensure it worked correctly. He also enjoyed researching the natural sciences on their travels, which I’m pretty sure meant he hunted every Australian bird and critter he could get his claws on.

Trim’s story ends in his fourth year of life, when he disappeared on the then-French island of Mauritius, never to be seen again. Captain Flinders was heartbroken at the loss of his faithful companion, and swore to erect a memorial in his honor. He died before he could, but the Mitchell Library in Syndey, Australia, and Flinders’ hometown of Donnington in England have both erected sculptures of Flinders accompanied by Trim.

ABLE SEACAT SIMON

Simon was born in Hong Kong, and began his career in the Royal Navy when he was smuggled aboard the HMS Amethyst under Ordinary Seaman George Hickinbottom’s shirt. Happily for all involved, the ship’s captain was a fan of cats and the position of seacat for the Amethyst stood open. Simon quickly became a favorite of all the crew, and took a particular shine to Lieutenant Commander Ian Griffiths – Simon would come to the captain’s whistle and walk with him on his rounds. Simon’s favorite place to nap was curled up in the captain’s upturned cap.

Simon served ably aboard the Amethyst, entertaining the crew with his ice cube-fishing routine and keeping the rats down and out of the food supplies. Simon’s true heroism was yet to emerge, however, and waited on the Amethyst’s trip up the Yangtze River to Nanking.

In April 1949, sailing up the Yangtze River, the HMS Amethyst was shelled by the Communists. The ship was badly damaged and trapped on the river for over three months. The captain was killed, among many others; Simon was hit by shrapnel and went into shock. He hid for some time, before eventually crawling on to the deck and being treated by the on-board surgeon. Surprising everyone, he recovered. He took up his old duties, bagging rat after rat, up to the greatest rat of all – an enormous and wily rat nicknamed Mao Tse Tsung. Simon kept up the crew’s morale by sitting with injured seamen, and won over the new captain – who was not a fan of cats – with a steady delivery of rat trophies and a purring vigil when the man came down with a fever.

For his gallant acts during this Yangtze incident, Simon was elevated to Able Seacat Simon and awarded the Dickin Medal. He was the first cat to receive this award, and the first naval animal as well! He became a celebrity, receiving many gifts, and was mobbed by guests wanting pictures. He wasn’t a fan of this sort of attention, and would often disappear when there were too many excited admirers about.

Sadly, Simon’s story did not go on much further. He died in November 1949, just weeks before a ceremony in his honor – he’d contracted a fever, and his body was too weakened by his previous wounds to pull through. You can discover more about his remarkable, if short, life at Purr’n’Furr: Famous Felines.

 

We hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane and discovered some remarkable cats! Honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg – cats have been living with humans for thousands of years, after all. Hit the comments and tell us about your favorite felines!

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