Home » Authors And Personalities » Júlio Henriques



Click on image to enlarge

Júlio Augusto Henriques, son of António Bernardino Henriques and of Maria Joaquina, was born in Arco de Baúlhe (Cabeceiras de Basto), district of Braga (Portugal), on the 15th January of 1838. In 1854, he moved to Coimbra, to study Law. He joined as an intern student the College of “São Bento” (building still housing the Department of Botany of the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra), where he was allocated a room, which he kept as his home until his death. He enrolled for a degree in Law on the 10th September 1855, which he completed on 22nd of June 1859, becoming a Baccalaureate of Law. He complemented his studies with a course in Administrative Law, which became very useful in the performance of his management tasks of the various management positions he held throughout his life.

At the time, a Degree Course in Law included subjects like Chemistry, Physics, Mineralogy, Zoology, Botany and Agriculture of the Faculty of Philosophy, which certainly influenced his already existing interest in scientific studies.

Júlio Henriques never thought of himself as a lawyer, like his father had always wished. He returned to university of Coimbra, on the 10th July 1861, and enrolled in Mathematics, but a few months later, on the 25th October he enrolled once again, but this time in the Faculty of Philosophy, where he completed a baccalaureate on the 12th July 1864. Recommended by his professor of Botany, Dr Antonio de Carvalho e Vasconcelos, Júlio Henriques continued his studies at the faculty of Philosophy, completing his degree on the 26th June of 1865. He completed his academic studies with a Doctorate in Philosophy, which he gained on 30th July of 1865, presenting as the dissertation for his PhD the thesis «As espécies são mudáveis?» (Are the Species mutative). In 1866, Júlio Henriques used his dissertation to apply for a position of Tutor at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Coimbra entitled “Antiguidade do Homem” (The Ancientness of Man). This dissertation studied an anthropological topic. Júlio Henriques, based his study on traces left by our ancestors and the whole history of humanity, to speak about the evolution of man and the relationship with the earth. He described the paleoenvironments that were associated with the course of human evolution. Moreover, he defended the theories of the evolution of the species, against the current belief of creation. His dissertation was accepted, and in 1869, he became part of the teaching staff of the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Coimbra, as a substitution lecturer for the subjects of Botany, Agriculture, Zoology, Chemistry and Mineralogy. In 1872, he taught for the first time as a lecturer the subject of Botany, a branch of Biology, which had an important effect in his scientific career.

When he started teaching at the University, Botany was already his great interest, but at the time, this science was not regarded important in Portugal. Very little or nothing had been done since the great builder, Avelar Brotero, in the teaching or study of Botany. The University did not have a Botany museum, or laboratories. The herbarium was not kept up to date, there was not even a Botany library, or the proper facilities for the serious teaching of this science.

In the 1860’s, when Júlio Henriques came to the University of Coimbra, education reforms were taking place. The Faculty of Philosophy was trying to improve the methods of teaching, in an attempt to recover the prestige of the institution, which had been deteriorating since the period of Avelar Brotero. There was the emergence of a trend to favour the teaching of theory and for the creation of laboratories. There was the will to bring the faculty out of the precarious existence it was in, but the lack of financial assistance from the state was a drawback. His tutor of Botany, Dr. António de Carvalho e Vasconcelos, was the perfect picture of this climate of change, and in spite of not being a good botanist was an excellent teacher, that knew how to involve the students. We can say that his influence moulded Julio Henriques into the professor he later became, always helpful towards all the students and an unconditional guide to whoever showed an interest and will to work.

From 1866 to 1873, Júlio Henriques was the Secretary of the Faculty of Philosophy. On the 17th February 1873, he was nominated lecturer and the Board of the Faculty of Philosophy gave him the regency of the subject of Botany and Agriculture and afterwards the Management of the Botanical Gardens. The “Colégio de São Bento” closed and the process of alterations to the faculty of Philosophy took over a great part of these premises. Júlio Henriques had a new and more appropriate space to work in and started a set of reforms, based on models of botanical institutions, of reference in Europe, making the Botanical Institute of the University of Coimbra one of the most prominent institutions of the kind.

Although his resources were always few, Júlio Henriques was nevertheless an entrepreneur and a man of vision. With great determination, he slowly created the facilities needed for learning. His passion for Botany could be seen in the enthusiasm with which he taught. He implemented the practical work, work in laboratories (equipping laboratories) and in the field, which he considered fundamental aspects of learning. He obtained microscopes for the faculty of Philosophy and promoted its use in Portugal. He separated the Museum of Natural History and everything related to the Plant Kingdom and founded the Botanical Museum; he brought together all the books on Botany that he found in the library of the Museum and of the University of Coimbra and organized a Botanical Library. He reorganized the gardens, making them more appropriate for learning and research. He equipped laboratories for learning and research, creating the facilities necessary for quality tuition. The museum was increased with the collections that came from all over the world, namely the Portuguese colonies overseas. The Library also grew with the acquisition of important and up to date works in Botany. In just a few years, this university department led by Júlio Henriques was exceptionally prepared to become a centre for the promotion and guidance of studies in Botany in Portugal. It is important to note that the acquisition by Julio Henriques, of the greatest part of the private herbarium of Moritz Willkomm, a German botanist, which included over one hundred thousand samples belonging to more that ten thousand species of plants from the Mediterranean region, Madeira and Canary Islands, which became the base for studying the Portuguese Flora.

According to Júlio Henriques, the University should not only have a simple didactic function, but also to play a role in the Development of Science. He took on transforming his institute in a centre of scientific research, to affect the renaissance of the studies of Botany in the country; changed it and re-established relationships with the great scientific centres abroad; he brought together the necessary means for the preparation and publishing of a quality Portuguese Flora.

The Botanical Gardens, from the time of its great builder, Avelar Brotero, was declining. Bureaucracies and annual budgets increasingly more reduced, had driven the gardens to an almost destruction state. When Júlio Henriques took over the management of the Gardens, there was already an effort to give it a new vitality, contracting qualified gardeners, proceeding with new plantations and establishing a link with important British and other European Gardens. This effort was put to good use by Júlio Henriques to recover the prestige of the Gardens. In the first years he improved the facilities of the hothouse, continued the plantations in the Garden and the border. He intensified the exchange of plants and seeds with the main botanical gardens in Portugal, Europe and other parts of the world, particularly Australia.

In 1874, he married Zulmira Angelina de Magalhães Lima, a bride recommended by his mother. He remained married until the death of his wife.

In 1879, he employed a Gardener from Germany, Adolfo Moller, and in the same year, Joaquim de Mariz, Philosophy graduate, was appointed botanist for the Faculty of Philosophy. Both these people together with a collector Manuel Ferreira, formed a very committed and extremely competent work team, who did exceptionally good work for the study of the Portuguese Flora and of the flora of Portuguese colonies in Africa.

In 1880, in tribute to Avelar Brotero, Júlio Henriques starts the Broterian Society, the first botanical scientific society to be started in Portugal. He started with a Society of Laymen, with a passion for Botany, bringing together agriculturalists, high school teachers, clergymen, doctors, past pupils of University and private people. This society collected botanical samples for posterior identification and preservation in the herbarium, with aim to gather material necessary for the publishing of a new Lusitanian Flora.

The naturalist Joaquim de Mariz and the Chief gardener Adolfo Moller co-operated diligently in this task.

The founding of this Society, had consequently the emergence of a publication, the Bulletin of the Broterian Society, a scientific magazine, which aimed to inform the members the activity of the society and publish the scientific works resulting from it. The first volume was published in 1883. Under the management of Júlio Henriques, the publishing of the bulletin was very regular and in 1920, 28 volumes had been published so far, closing the first series. Due to the ageing of the great master and the disappearance of his co-operators, the Bulletin became smaller. In 1920 the co-operation decreased greatly and the circulation did not exceed more than 80 bulletins. Júlio Henriques, already 82 years old, was prepared to end the publication of the magazine. The Doctors Luiz Wittnich Carriso and Aurélio Quintanilha, did not permit this publication to die and in fact revived it. This was the beginning of the second series.

The admiration Júlio Henriques had for Avelar Brotero, acknowledged the importance of this Botanist for the development of the study of Botany in Portugal. To show this he laid a statue in his honour at the Botanical Gardens, on the 1st April 1887.

Júlio Henriques travelled the country in flora (herborization) expeditions and encouraged many other people to take up the same activity. He carried out very productive expeditions to “ Estrela, Marão, Buçaco, Gerês, Caramulo, Lousã, Macieira, Castro-Daire mountains and São Tomé e Príncipe”. This activity, resulted in various important scientific publications, amongst which the most important is monographic study of various groups of Portuguese Flora: Criptogamic Vascular, Gimnospérmic, Amarilidáceae, Gramíneae, Plantagináceae, Fungi, Diatomáceae and Líquens. He also prepared the first flora monograph of São Tomé e Principe, which like all his scientific production, was published in the Bulletins of the Broterian Society. He also published the first methodical study of the regional flora of Portugal – sketch of the Flora of the Mondego Basin.

Identified, classified and described many of the botanic samples collected by him and the whole Botany Community that spread throughout the world. – he had contacts at the highest level, with ministers, to free or relocate officers to do collections in the colonies. He shared and gave many samples to classify to well known Botany Experts of his time, who dedicated many species to him.

His knowledge of Botany was recognised and there was great consideration for his opinion. He exchanged correspondence with Pereira Coutinho and Gonçalo Sampaio for over 50 years, two distinguished Portuguese Botanists. Assisting both in the preparation of their respective “Floras de Portugal” (Flora of Portugal)

Julio Henriques had a particular interest in the colonial agriculture. He did various publications with the aim to assist the farmers in the colonies, such as: Agricultura Colonial, Meios para a Fazer Progredir (Colony Agriculture, Methods of doing it with success); and “Instruções Práticas Para a Cultura das Plantas que Dão a Quina” (Practical Instruction to Cultivate the Plants that yield Quinine). The Botanical Gardens of Coimbra, under his management, was a testing place, to study and cultivate new plants with agricultural interest, with the aim to find out the agricultural viability of the Colonies. Thousands of plants with agricultural interest for the colonies were grown in the hothouses of the Botanical Gardens of Coimbra and sent to those colonies, namely Angola and São Tomé.

The cultivation of Quinine, (a species of Cinchona) had, at the time, great economic and health interest. From the bark of this plant quinine is extracted. This product can be used to treat malaria, which at the time was responsible for the loss of life in Portugal and the colonies. Seeds and live plants came from the Botanical Gardens in Coimbra and sent to the Portuguese colonies, for the development of the farming of quinine.

Júlio Henriques was a member of various Portuguese and foreign scientific institutions such as: The Broterian Society, the Society of Geography of Lisbon, Botanic Society of France, The Acclimatization Society of France, the Society of Economy of Madrid, the Botanic Society of Copenhagen; was an officer of the Academy of France. He understood well the importance that this type of institutions had in bringing together the efforts and recognition of scientific works.

Unknown to many was his great interest in art. For many years he was committee member of the Committee of Art and Archaeology, based in Coimbra.

Although he was a determined and persistent man, he was also extremely humble. He always refused the many awards for which he was nominated. He took on very few positions throughout his life, besides those he had as the Tutor responsible for the subject Botany and Director of the Botanical Gardens. An exception was being the Chairman of the Academic Philantropic Association, now extinct. He never had an administrative or political post. In 1907 he represented Coimbra University at Upsala in Sweden, for the celebrations of the bicentennial , where he was awarded Honorary Doctors degree, received the diploma, the gold ring and the laurel crown.

He was the 14th Director of the Botanical Gardens of the University of Coimbra for 40 years and retired on the 16th March 1918 from the post of Director and from teaching at age of 80. He continued to work as a Botanist and Director of the herbarium almost until his death. On the 7th May 1928 at almost 90, he died in Coimbra.

Jorge Guimarães

posc_logo feder_logo© Universidade de Coimbra. Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia. Departamento de Botânica