Temi Zammit was born in 1864 at a time when Malta was an important British naval base. During his time, incredible poverty alternated with period of economic prosperity that were often brought about by war. The social, economic and religious conditions which he experienced were later to serve as the setting of many of the short stories which he wrote in Maltese.
He came from a very humble family background, one that was then not at all associated with tertiary education. Zammit matriculated in 1882 and first qualified as an apothecary in 1887, a profession which he only practised briefly. Two years later he graduated from the University’s Faculty of Medicine and Surgery. He soon gave up the practice of clinical medicine and in 1891 was appointed as Analytical Chemist to the Sanitary Branch of the Police Department. Zammit was sent to complete his postgraduate studies in chemistry at the École Supérieure de Pharmacie in Paris and later went to London to study bacteriology at King’s College.
Soon after returning to Malta, in 1904, he was appointed member of the Mediterranean Fever Commission as the representative of the Maltese Government. His seminal discovery, in collaboration with others, of the way Undulant Fever (Brucellosis) is transmitted secured for him an international reputation. A year later, in 1905 he was appointed to the Chair of Chemistry at our University, a Chair which he filled until his appointment as Rector in 1920.
During all this time his interest in Malta’s ancient past never waned. Zammit burst on the island’s archaeological scene at the beginning of the twentieth century and continued to dominate it right up to his death in 1935. He completed the excavation of the Ħal Saflieni hypogeum by 1910, excavated a number of archaeological sites and tombs, and, between 1915 and 1919, methodically unearthed the Tarxien neolithic temples. In the meantime, as Director of a new Museum, inaugurated in 1905, he began to organize and enrich the Museum’s collections. He maintained his Directorship until the very end.
Sir Temi Zammit was perhaps Malta’s most distinguished scholar who wore his deep scholarship, immense erudition and intellectual brilliance disarmingly lightly.