Maltese Naturalists

Giuseppe Despott (1878-1933)

Giuseppe DespottGiuseppe Despott was born in Cospicua on the 24 July 1878, the son of a renowned lawyer Dr. Carmelo Despott LL.D., and Giuseppina nee’ Schembri. Because of his father’s occupation, the Despott family was well off.

When Giuseppe was nine years old, his family moved to 280, St. Paul’s Street, Valletta, and later on in 150, St. Lucia Street, Valletta. He received his education at St.IgnatiusCollege, and FloresCollege. Unfortunately, in the early years, Giuseppe’s love for painting was not approved by his parents, who had other plans in mind for him. In June 1899, he sat for the Matriculation examination for admission into the University of Malta.

In October 1900 he was admitted, as a regular student for a triennial course in Literature. He studied English, Italian and Latin, History and Philosophy. He attended regularly, had a good conduct and obtained an average mark of 60 per cent in his periodical tests. However, in spite of this Giuseppe decided not to continue the remaining two years of the course and so dropped out of University. He was never interested in following in his father’s footsteps. His father was well aware of this and when he saw that his son had a talent for oil painting, in 1902 he sent him to study at the Institute of Fine Arts in Rome, Italy.

 After successfully completing his course, Giuseppe returned to Malta. Despite his painting abilities, he never possessed a full time job as an artist. His passion for nature kept him busy where he used to spend days, watching birds, reptiles and collecting seashells from around the Maltese shores. He rarely if ever carried any notebooks but he used to scribble his field observations on packets of cigarettes that he always carried with him.

In November 1913, at the age of 35, he was appointed Curator of Natural History at the University, a post that he held until 1922. In that same year, the newly formed Museum Department entrusted the Curatorship of the Natural History Section to Giuseppe Despott. Two years earlier Giuseppe was appointed the First Superintendent of Fisheries; he held both this position until 6th June 1933 when he had to retire because of ill health.

 Giuseppe’s interest in natural sciences culminated in his long list of publications covering various and diverse fields such as birds, marine shells, reptiles and fish. He also showed a great interest in Palaeontology (fossils) and archaeology were he carried out a series of excavations at Tal-Herba Fissure and later on at Ghar Dalam. One of the greatest assets that Despott possessed, were the numerous foreign contacts that he had, such as the Italian Ornithologist Arrigoni degli Oddi and Palaeontologist Dorothea Bate from the British Museum Natural History and many others.  Giuseppe passed away in 1933 at the age of 55.



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