Félix da Silva
Avelar was the name given at birth to Avelar Brotero, who was born on the 25th
November 1744 in Santo Antão do Tojal, Loures (Portugal). Son of José da Silva
Pereira e Avelar, doctor by the University
of Coimbra, and his
mother was Maria René da Encarnação. In 1746, Brotero at the age of two was
trusted to his paternal grandfather, Bernardo da Silva, because of the
premature death of his father and mental insanity that his mother suffered subsequently.
As a result of the
death of his paternal grandfather, Félix de Avelar, only eight years old was
cared for by his maternal grandfather, José Rodrigues Carreira Frazão, administrator
of the royal household of Mafra. Félix de Avelar, from very early age showed an
aptitude for arts and science and at the age of seven, supported by his
grandfather, started school at the
Colégio dos Religiosos Arrábidos of Mafra. He achieved the highest possible
marks in, Portuguese, Latin, Rhetoric
and Rational Philosophy. It was at this time that he became especially
interested in church music, religious hymns for which he had a good voice.
In 1762, his maternal grandfather died, who
was the only family member that could support him. Thus at 19 Félix de Avelar finds himself
alone and without financial support. As
he was a good hymn singer in 1763, he was employed has chief singer in the
Patriarchal Church of Lisbon, this gave him enough income to survive. Meanwhile he continued his studies in Latin
and music, and still had some time to get knowledge in cannon law. In 1768, he was ordained Deacon.
In 1770, Félix de
Avelar enrolled at the Faculty of Cannon at the University of Coimbra.
The courses were open, it was only necessary to do the exam at the end of the
academic year. In 1772 after completing the exams successfully for three
consecutive years, he was forced to interrupt his degree. The Pombaline reform brought great changes to
the university, one of them was forbidding sitting exams without attending
classes. The open courses ended and the
students had to stay in Coimbra. Félix
de Avelar could not afford to give up his position as chaplain-singer in Lisbon. This prevented him
from moving to Coimbra.
following a clergyman career he achieved a subsidy of a measure of corn from
the Royal household of Reguengo de Alviela, with the intention of being
ordained. However he never got further
than a Deacon, although throughout his life he dressed like a clergyman.
His duties as
chaplain singer of the Lisbon Patriarchal left him with lots of free time to
deepen his knowledge of Humanities. He
continued in this way to study Latin and began the study of Greek, a language
he later became fluent in. He later
taught Greek and received an invitation to teach it in the city of Baía. An invitation
that he was unable to accept.
Enlightment reached Portugal
and began to get followers, Félix de Avelar was one of them. When the Lisbon Gazettes reappeared, Felix
Avelar was their editor. His love for science, the philosophical ideas he had
and the closeness with Francisco Manuel
do Nascimento (Filinto Elísio), resulted in him being under the jurisdiction of
the Holy See. On the 5th of
July 1778, to escape the agents of Pina Manique, he left everything and emigrated
together with his friend Filinto Elísio.
In June of the same year he arrived at Havre. Without any means of sustenance
he went to Paris,
where he was welcomed and helped by the Portuguese people residing there,
amongst which were the Ambassador of Portugal, Vicente de Sousa Coutinho, as
well as other important dignitaries of Portuguese politics, such as Fernandes
de Lima, Francisco de Menezes and the doctor Ribeiro Sanches.
This stage of his
life spent in Paris,
brought great scientific and personal enrichment to Brotero. It is here,
following the fashion of the learned to take on Philanthropic names, that he
adds Brotero to his registered name, a
word deriving from the Greek brohtos and eros, that meant lover of the mortals, and became thus Félix de Avelar Brotero.
For the 12 years
of his stay in Paris
he attended classes diligently on Natural History, taught by prominent figures
of the Museum of Natural History of Paris such as Buffon, Lamarck, Jussieu,
Valmont de Bomare, Vicq d’Azyr and Aubenton, amongst others. Brisson taught him
Botany classes at the “Académie de
Pharmacie”, a subject in which he became a distinguished professor and
of his studies in Natural History he qualified as Medical Doctor at the University of Reims,
because the Course Certificates were considerably cheaper there than in Paris. Due to his extreme
sensibility he stopped practicing medicine and turned exclusively to the study
of Botany. While studying Brotero earned
an income by selling original works and translations to Parisian publishers.
In 1788, he published in Paris, his first Botany compendium, or
Elementary Notions of this Science, according to the best Modern Writers,
explained in the Portuguese Language. An
important book aimed for the university courses. The subject content is well organised and
explained clearly and accurately. This
work includes the “Dictionary of Botany Terms”, which has been used as
reference by many Portuguese botanists after him.
With the emergence
of the French revolution, Brotero, who opposed the course of events returned to
Lisbon in 1790
once again with Filinto Elísio.
On the 13th of March 1791,
Brotero was given a degree freely by the Faculty of Philosophy of
without defending a thesis or writing an exam. He was given the
responsibility of teaching Botany and Agriculture (1791-1811), as well
as managing the works of
the Botanical Gardens that were still at the beginning. The
treatment given to Brotero when appointing him as lecturer came into
with the interests and promotions of the other professors employed who
result were hostile to the Botanical Gardens. This was the case for a
very long time, and in many occasions, isolated
Brotero, who took refuge in his work as a lecturer and scientist, to
problems caused by this.
leadership of Brotero the Botanical Gardens of the University of Coimbra
achieved an extraordinary development. He re-structured the areas already built, and built new areas, built
infra structures and re-directed the work of the Botanical Gardens. He
installed the Systematic Schools, set according to the Sexual System of Lineu. The dynamics of the Gardens was centred in the
study of medicinal plants, for the students of medicine, but Brotero opened the
gardens to other scientific areas, turning it into a testing area for the
various branches of Agriculture and Botany studies.
Filled the flowerbeds of the Botanical Gardens
with plants from the whole country and overseas. This was used to teach students of Philosophy
and Medicine. Under his management the
D. Maria I gate was built at the
entrance to the square, in front of the Lower level of Carrisso.
There was no herbarium
of Portuguese plants. Brotero began
herborizations and plant collections in a herbarium. A contribution that
revealed to be essential for the study of the Portuguese Flora.
He was the author
of various important scientific botany works, amongst which is «Phytographia
Lusitaniae Selectior», divided in two volumes, published in 1816 and 1827
respectively and the «História Natural
dos Pinheiros, Larices, e Abetos», published in 1827. Of great importance
was the «Flora Lusitanica», published
in 1804, in two volumes, the first shows the Portuguese floral diversity, being
the base for all floras that subsequently emerged in Portugal. Over a period of 10 years, he recorded 1885
species, firstly classifying them in Latin. Some of these, were new species
(100) classified by the Sexual System of Lineu.
In his Botany
classes he used the compendium he produced in Paris,
and for Agriculture classes he prepared a compendium “Principals of philosophical Agriculture ”, which deals with plant
physiology, a work that was not totally published, but there is a complete
manuscript in the Library of the Academy
of Science of Lisbon.
In 1807, the
advance of the French invasions reached Coimbra,
forcing Brotero to make another change,
as a result he took refuge in Lisbon. His house was burnt down and many of his
books were destroyed. He only returned
to Coimbra in
1810 with the aim to start proceedings to retire from teaching. He retired as per Royal Order of 27th April of
1811 and Decree of 16th August 1811. He moved once again
to Lisbon to take up the post of Director of the Royal Museum
and the Botanical Gardens of Ajuda, where he worked before at the time of the
French revolution. He started to re-organise the museum and the
Botanical Gardens, but the French
Commissioner for Science and Art,
Geoffrey de Saint-Hilaire took all the material to the Museum in Paris, making the
organization of the Museum impossible. This left him the Botanical Garden,
which he rehabilitated, and prepared the respective catalogue.
In 1821, he was
elected representative at the extraordinary general court for
Estremadura. He took part in the discussion of the cereal law where he
farmers to grow rye and wheat to make it possible to produce bread for
whole population at an acceptable price to all. He asked to be relieved
duties, after four months of assisting with the legislative works. His
request was duly accepted.
He kept the title
of Knight of the Order of São Bento de Avis, a century old Portuguese military religious order of knights.
As a man devoted
to science, he was very active. His name
is listed as a member of the Linnean Society of London and of the Royal
Horticultural Society. He was also member of various academies, amongst which
are: The Royal Academy of Science of Lisbon, the
Academy of Natural
History and Philomatic of Paris, the Academy Physiographic of
Lunden in Sweden, the
Academy of Natural History of Rostock and the Academy
of Cesarea of Bonn.
He died on the 4th of August 1828, in
Alcolena of Belem (Lisbon)
and was buried in the church of S. José
The prestige of Brotero
amongst the Botanists of his time was great. In his honour some plants
were named after him, as is the case of Brotera ovata and the Brotera
In 1873, Júlio
Henriques was appointed director of the Botanical Garden. He acknowledged the
work of Brotero, and started in 1880, in his honour the Broterian Society and
continued the works of herborization of Brotero. The statue of Avelar Brotero next to the main
entrance of the Botanical Gardens of Coimbra tries to immortalize this great
Botanist. This was also the result Dr. Júlio Henriques’ personal commitment.