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Carrisso, Luís Wittnich, 1886-1937
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Luís Wittnich Carrisso, was born on the 14th of February 1886 in the parish of Julião, council of Figueira da Foz. He was the son of Inácio Augusto Carrisso and of Leopoldina Neumier Wittnich Carrisso. He completed Secondary School at the “Colégio Liceu Figueirense” and enrolled in the University of Coimbra. During his childhood, besides learning his mother language (German), he also attended French lessons, achieving an excellent level. He later put this to good use when communicating with the International Scientific Committee.

During his student years, he had a close relationship with the aristocrat and poet Count of Monsaraz, who valued highly, his intellectual talents. The count was an important figure in the education of Wittnich Carrisso. He gave him the opportunity to experience social interactions with the upper class. This awoke in him the exquisite artistic sensibility for which he became well known as well as integrating him in the literary and political movement of the beginning of the 20th Century. As a social being , Wittnich Carrisso was a good man, always fair, a good communicator, gentle and courteous to all.

From 1904 to 1910, he attended the old Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Coimbra. He completed a Degree in Philosophy on the 14th March 1910, sat a very difficult exam, for which he was awarded a mark of 19 (out of 20). A year later on the 22nd of June 1911, he obtained a PhD at the Faculty of Natural Philosophy. The dissertation he submitted was “Materiais para o estudo do plâncton da costa portuguesa” (Materials for the study of plankton on the Portuguese Coast) – Part I, The lesson he chose was from “Estado actual dos conhecimentos acerca dos restos de fósseis” (The present knowledge about fossils) of de Neanderthal, Spy and Krapina. He completed a Doctorate and the mark awarded was 20.

In the same year he did the PhD, Wittnich Carrisso applied for the position of assistant in the group of Biological Science. His dissertation for that post was “Materiais para o estudo do plâncton da costa portuguesa” (Materials for the study of plankton on the Portuguese Coast) – Part II. He was nominated for the post, which he took up on the 17th of January 1912 and stayed until 1918, when he was promoted to Professor.

On the 12th January 1912, Wittnich Carrisso married Ana Maria Costa Pereira de Sousa, also from the parish of São Julião, in Figueira da Foz. This was his only marriage, which bore no children.

On the 3rd of April 1918, Wittnich Carrisso was nominated Professor “catedrático”. In that, same year he also took on the management of the Botanical Gardens of Coimbra, at the time of the retirement of Júlio Henriques, who, because of his old age only wanted to continue his work as a Naturalist at the Institute. Wittnich Carrisso took over an institution that included the Botanical Museum, the Laboratory and the Botanical Gardens, which was then called Botanical Institute Dr. Júlio Henriques. He was Director of the Institute until his death, in 1937.

Under the leadership of Wittnich Carrisso, the Botanical Gardens gained new plants, namely exotic African plants, the majority coming from Angola. He developed ties with similar gardens, promoting the exchange of seeds and plants, enriching the list in the publication of the Semium Index, which at the time was considered one of the six best in the world, due to its variety and scientific preciseness. He renovated the hothouses and modernized its heating, and planted a greater number of exotic plants, inclusive the much-appreciated Victoria amazonica (Poeppig) Sowerby. He introduced important changes in the organisation of the Garden, in a way that it would provide what it should: educate the public from the scientific, floral and scenic point of view; play a supporting role in the teaching of Botany, in teaching students in the fields of taxonomy (vascular plants, and non-vascular plants), anatomy, physiology, ecology and pharmacology; and have the facilities where researchers could keep the necessary materials for their research. He made a greater space available to the public, planted a great quantity of trees, duly identified and labelled, with the scientific and common names, as well as the geographic distribution of the species. He also provided a space for nurseries and founded the school of Monocotyledoneae. He made a great effort to obtain the necessary resources for each of the services of the garden, preventing the abandonment of past periods.

Wittnich Carrisso favoured the specialization of science to achieve more preciseness. Thus, as Director of the Institute, Dr Júlio Henriques, began to separate the two aspects of botanical studies: On the one hand, the cytological and genetic studies, on the other hand the morphologic and floristic studies.

The Herbarium of the University of Coimbra benefited from Wittnich Carrisso. He co-operated greatly by enriching the collections. He ordered many harborizations in Portugal and Angola, not only with the aim of collecting, but also with the aim of studying the flora of the Country.

The University of Coimbra delegated to Wittnich Carrisso the tradition of the study of African Flora. His interest and liking of Angola, led him to do three botanic expeditions to this country: the first, in 1927, centred in Cabinda, and the districts of Lunda, Benguela, Huíla and Moçamedes; a short second expedition in 1929; and the third, in 1937, during which he died in the desert of Namib (Moçâmedes). He diligently studied the flora of this former Portuguese colony, in the scope of Botanic Geography. He organised vast collection of plants for the herbarium, which was published in successive editions of the Bulletin of the Broterian Society. He started the publishing of the Conspectus of the Flora Angolensis.

He was awarded a place in the Council of the Colonial Empire, for his commitment to solve the colonization problems in the provinces abroad, promoting the scientific investigations in Africa, as a way of uniting the continent with the colonies.

As a professor, Wittnich Carrisso was exceptional, earning the respect and esteem of his students. He knew well how to awake the interest on botanical studies, involving students and professors, as was the case of the conferences he promoted with Portuguese and foreign professors, some of which of great scientific prestige.

In spite of having come to Coimbra to study at the university, he never forgot his hometown. He co-operated and took part in initiatives to increase its tourist attractions. He was a leader in founding the Committee for Initiative and Tourism, and led various improvements to the Esplanade and the Beach, founded the Tennis Club, and led the study for the building of the Golf Course, the herborization of the “Serra da Boa Viagem” and the Dunes of Quiaios as well as improving the harbour areas, etc.

He valued the Free University highly and was made a member on the 4th of June 1929, at his request. For the benefit of this institution, he took part in many talks, where he lectured about the former Colony of Angola, his favourite topic.

From 1909 to 1937, Dr. Wittnich Carrisso published 29 biological, historical and biographic works. He was one of the pillars of the Broterian Society at the time of Julio Henriques, re-structuring it and assuring the continuity of the “Bulletin of the Broterian Society”, with the star of the 2nd Series, and starting the magazine “Memórias da Sociedade Broteriana” (Memories of the Broterian Society), in 1930. During his presidency, the Broterian Society was an active and productive society at the service of Science and Botany.

He was a man totally dedicated to science, a committed botanist, his works earned him respect and admiration all over the world. He became a distinguished Professor of the University of Coimbra and a well-known Portuguese scientist. During his life he held many important positions: Secretary of the Faculty of Science (1917-1919); Director of the Botany Museum and Laboratory (1919-1922); Director of the Botanical Gardens (1919-1922); Interim Rector of the University of Coimbra (1930-1931); Director of the Botanical Institute (until 1937); President of the Municipality of Coimbra; President of the Committee for the works at the University city; President Council for the council developing Secondary and Technical Education.

He represented Portugal in various international congresses and conferences. His special liking for ecology was well known and the Portuguese Government appointed him a delegate to the International Conference for the Protection of Fauna and Flora of Africa (London 1933). He represented the University of Coimbra at the commemorative celebrations of the IV Centenary of the College of France (1931) and in the III Centenary of the National Museum of Natural History of Paris and the French Academy (1935).

The greatness of his human and scientific characteristics was recognised at the highest level, earning him prestigious awards. He was awarded “Grande Oficial da Ordem de S. Tiago de Espada”, Knight of the Legion of Honour and posthumously, on the 1st of September 1937 he was awarded the “Grã-Cruz da Ordem de Instrução Pública” (Portuguese insignia awarded for exceptional services to the country).

He died in the desert of Moçâmedes, in Angola on the 6th June 1937, victim of heart syncope, during the third botanical expedition to that country. A monument was built on the place in his memory.

Jorge Guimarães

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