Oom, Frederico Augusto (1830-1890)

Frederico Augusto Oom was originally a hydrographic engineer and the lieutenant of the Portuguese Navy. Later he was trained by Otto Struve on astronomy and became the first director of the Astronomical Observatory of Lisbon.

Frederico Augusto Oom

W. Struve offered apprenticeship positions at Pulkovo and the young navy officer Frederico Augusto Oom (1830–1890), who would become the first director of the AOL, was sent to the Russian observatory, where he stayed from 1858 to 1863 as a trainee astronomer under the supervision of Otto Struve. F. A. Oom also had the chance to visit several observatories and instrument workshops, acquiring a broad perspective on the trends in European astronomy.
Back in Lisbon, Oom played a central role in the installation of the instruments, the construction of functional elements of the building (namely the central rotating tower) and the organization of the new observatory.
The organizational principles and scientific aims of the Royal Astronomical Observatory of Lisbon were officially established by a statutory decree only in 1878. Folque died in 1874, when the observatory was still a section of the Portuguese Geodetic Works of which he was the director. By this time the long process of building and equipping the observatory was coming close to completion and it was time to proceed with its formal recognition as an autonomous scientific institution. Oom took an active role in establishing the observatory according to the original ideas of Wilhelm Struve. He had the support from the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon, but the Low Chamber of the Parliament issued a statutory proposal pervaded by the interests of the University of Coimbra. According to this proposal, the new institution should be something akin to a university observatory, with professors and lecturers developing practical work when not busy with teaching duties. This was not compatible with the principle of exclusive dedication suggested by W. Struve. With the political support from the High Chamber of the Parliament, the ideas defended by Oom took advantage and the approved statutory established that the Royal Astronomical Observatory of Lisbon was to work primarily for the advancement of sidereal astronomy. Solar system astronomy, practical contributions to navigation and geography, and time keeping were secondary functions. The staff would comprise five astronomers, who were expected to work exclusively for the Observatory.

Pedro Raposo : The Material Culture of Nineteenth-Century Astrometry, its Circulation and Heritage at the Astronomical Observatory of Lisbon, ICOMOS

Born in N Sra Dos Mártires, Lisbon on 4 Dec 1830 to Thomaz Oom and Maria Christina De Carvalho. Frederico Augusto married Alexandrina Solovioff Ller and had 2 children. He passed away on 24 Jul 1890 in Real Observatorio Astronómico De Lisbon, Tapada Ajuda. Wilhelm Struve a famous astronomer and director of the Pulkovo observatory, offered his services to the Portuguese government and was considered the main adviser who played a very important role in the orientation of astronomer Frederico Augusto Oom, who was given a training stage of 5 years. Oom, lieutenant of the Navy and hydrographic engineer, who became the first director of the Royal Astronomical Observatory of Lisbon, had a very important role in the whole foundation of this building. 

Lisbon 1 obverse

A medal that was issued in 1990 at the first centenary of the death of the first director of the observatory. On the obverse the facing portrait of Oom dominates the scene. Legend on the left in five lines is: "ALMI-RANTE FREDE-RICO AUGUSTO OOM", i. e. Admiral Frederico Augusto Oom, in three lines "ENGo HIDRƠGRAFO E ASTRƠNOMO", that is hydrographic engineer and astronomer. On the right are his birth and death year.  Below: "PREMEIRO DIRECTOR DO OBSERVATƠRIO DA AJUDA", i. e. first director of observatory on Ajuda. Below the shoulder of Oom, the signature of the medalist is visible: S. MACHADO.

Lisbon 1  reverseOn the reverse the building of the observatory is displayed. Legend above is: "NO 1o CENTENÁRIO DO SEU FALECIMENTO", i. e. to the 1st centenary of his death. Below in four lines: "DIA DA MAINHA 8 DE JULHO 1990", that is Navy Day 8 July 1990. Three coats of arms (to be identified) is also visible.

The construction of the Astronomical Observatory of Lisbon (AOL) was due to the strong desire to build a magnificent institution, a reference in Portuguese culture. It was modeled on the foremost observatory of the period, the Observatory of Pulkovo in Russia. In 1992 the AOL became a part of the University of Lisbon, and, in 1995, a unit of the Faculty of Sciences of the same University. Its main building and most of its instruments are generally well preserved and significantly close to their original condition. The AOL was conceived as an observatory dedicated to the advancement of sidereal astronomy (i. e, the study of stars and nebulae), when astrophysics was just emerging and most observatories focused on the study of solar system objects or, at best, on the measurement of stellar positions for cataloging purposes mainly. By 1850, a discussion on stellar parallax measurements between astronomers from the observatories of Paris and Pulkovo led them to realize the geographic suitability of Lisbon for studies in sidereal astronomy and, after a long and complex process of local demarches, the AOL was established with the aim of fostering the knowledge of stellar distances. After the financial support and commitment that King D. Pedro V gave to this project, its construction started on 11 March 1861, under the rule of King D. Luis I, who also contributed to funding the institution, withdrawing money from his personal budget. The first observations were carried out in 1867, but the Statutory Decree establishing the Royal Observatory of Lisbon was approved only in 1878.