History of COI
Although founded as early as in 1290, the University of Coimbra initiated the study of Natural History only c. 500 years later. In 1772, the Prime Minister, the Marquis of Pombal, established a number of reforms aimed at developing culture and science in the country. At the University, he founded a “Cabinet of Natural History” to which was associated a Botanic Garden. In 1791, Félix de Avelar Brotero, a major botanist of his day, succeeded to Vandelli and became the second director of it. At that time, there was not such a thing as a herbarium in Coimbra.
Augusto Henriques (born 15 Jan 1838, Arco de Baúlhe, Braga) took his first
degree in Law at Coimbra University followed by a second at the Faculty of
Philosophy where he did his PhD in 1865 with a thesis entitled “Are species mutable?”. He became a lecturer in 1869 and
in three years taught botany for the first time. At the time, botany was in a
bad state in the country, but Henriques developed a great passion for the
subject and used the then current educational reforms to transform the
situation in Coimbra.
Moritz Heinrich Willkomm
Moritz Heinrich Willkomm (born 29 June 1821, Mittel Herwigsdorf by Zittau, Bohemia– died 26 August 1895, Schloss Wartenberg, Niemes). M. Willkomm’s initial experience at the University of Leipzig was rather turbulent. The politically stormy 1840s saw him involved in students political claims for a union and, as some others, he had to leave the country. By then, he was already assistant to Gustav Kunze, who, knowing of the interesting findings of Boissier and Reuter in the Iberian Peninsula, suggested to Moritz to make god use of this exile and travel and collect there.
Adolpho Frederico Möller
Frederico Möller (born 1842 Lisbon – died, 1920 Lisbon). Son of German parents
living in Portugal, Adolpho Möller departed to Germany in 1857 to study
forestry for three years. Back to Portugal he was employed by the Portuguese
government in various related jobs and became noticed for his excellent performance.
Wittnich Carrisso (born 14th February 1886 in the seaside city of Figueira da
Foz) had an excellent start in botany through the competent hands of Ruy Telles
Palhinha (1871-1957) in the classes of Natural Sciences at High School in
Lisbon. They became everlasting friends. At the Faculty of Natural Philosophy
of the University of Coimbra, Carrisso was a pupil of Júlio Henriques, the
director of botany and founder of the Herbarium. At the age of 22, Carrisso got
his degree and three years latter his PhD with a thesis on the plankton of the
Portuguese coast and was examined by J. Henriques.
John Gossweiler (Regensdorf 1873 -
Lisbon 1952) was a Swiss botanist mostly educated in in the UK who, at the age
of 26, departed to Angola working for the Portuguese government. His first job
was through Júlio Henriques, director at COI.
the following 50 years (till his death), the core of his different jobs in
Angola (e.g. letter to Henriques of the 17.ii.1905) was always to assess the
potential of the colony for agriculture.
Abílio Fernandes (born 19 October 1906, Maçaínhas,
Guarda – died 16 de Outubro de 1994, Coimbra) had a long life studying plants,
lecturing and directing botany at Coimbra University. As soon as he graduated
in 1927, he started teaching at the Instituto
Botânico Júlio Henriques. For ten years, he gained the experience that saw
him through a major challenge – the sudden death of the director, Luís
Carrisso. He would have been the immediate natural successor of Carrisso, but
for the fact that he was not a full professor by then and new appointments were
suspended between 1936-42. Nevertheless, many were the responsibilities he took
and in 1942 he became the 16th director of botany at Coimbra for the
following 32 years.
Rosette Batarda Fernandes
Rosette Mercedes Saraiva Batarda (born 1.10.1916, Redondo, Alto Alentejo – died 28.05.2005, Coimbra) started high school in Lisbon in 1928 and got her degree in Biology in 1941 at Lisbon University having had excellent marks. In that same year she attended a congress in Natural Sciences in Lisbon where she met the young botanist Abílio Fernandes. There, they started a life-time liaison, both personal and professional. Rosette Fernandes moved to Coimbra, they married and Abílio Fernandes became the director of Botany at Coimbra University – all in 1941!