Joseph Muscat, a brilliant author and humble man with a fine sense of humour, crossed the threshold to eternal life silently, serenely, on Friday, January 28, 2022.
It is not every day that one meets a man whose depth of knowledge is also enhanced with ‘breadth’ and understanding of many different fields. It is a rare privilege to meet such an educated man who is also gentle and humble.
Born on December 16, 1934, he was the youngest of five children. At a young age, he spent hours in his father’s carpentry shop where he learnt to construct delicate wooden objects.
At 18, as a clerk with the Royal Air Force, he restored antique models of ships at the National Museum. To do so, he had to do a lot of research as there was little published information about the vessels of the Order at the time. He also bought magazines, books and ship model kits from other countries so he could scrutinise more thoroughly the vessels’ smallest details. His work was something no one before him had really paid much notice to.
He attended St Michael’s Training College, Ta’ Giorni, between 1969 and 1971 to embark on a teaching career. His dissertation was about the history of sailing vessels around Malta from the time of the Phoenicians until before the Knights’ arrival. He also presented a model of a gallery used by the Knights of St John.
In 1988, Muscat, a maritime expert, was appointed secretary to the provisional committee of the Maritime Museum. When the former Royal Naval Bakery was chosen to house the museum, he was entrusted with the task to assist in its set-up. There, besides being a ship model-maker, he carried out various restoration works on old ship models.
His passion led him to many parts of the world − travels he financed himself except once when he was awarded a one-month scholarship to carry out research in Venice. He spent the whole month going through old documents in the library and the archives of the Grand Priory of Venice.
His publications deal with the Maltese historical maritime theme, the fleet of the Order of St John, the Maltese maritime ex-voto paintings and maritime graffiti, detailed illustrations, drawn by him, of all seafaring vessels that sailed in Malta before the Phoenicians until the beginning of the 20th century, slaves, and food and drink on Maltese galleries. His 516-page publication Sails Round Malta – Types of Sea Vessels 1600BC-1900AD (2008) is considered to be his magnum opus.
A respected international authority on his subject, Muscat participated in congresses, locally and abroad. He was an active member of the Malta Historical Society and the Society for Nautical Research of England.
Like all truly educated men, Joseph worked in many areas including the production of educational television programmes. He also played several musical instruments including the harmonium, the violin, the cello and the organ.
Being an active member of the Society of Christian Doctrine, he spent years teaching catechism to young children in Rabat, Attard and Dingli. From its founder St George Preca, he inherited the zeal to propagate love for the crib. He truly lived Christmas all your round and was held as a knowledgeable authority on Maltese crib-making and its history.
In 2001, Muscat was decorated with the Midalja għall-Qadi tar-Repubblika and honoured with the Croce dell’Ordine al Merito Melitense. In 2011 he was conferred a Master of Arts in Philosophy (Honoris Causa) by the University of Malta. He was also decorated by the Rabat local council with Ġieħ ir-Rabat in 2012.
Farewell, Ġużeppi. You left behind an impressive legacy of scholarship on various aspects of maritime history. Generations of students and scholars are indebted to you for your work and your generous guidance.
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