Ulloa, Antonio de (1716–1795)

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Ulloa, Antonio de (1716–1795)

Antonio de Ulloa (b. 12 January 1716; d. 5 July 1795), naval officer, scientist, and royal bureaucrat. Born in Seville, Antonio de Ulloa was educated in his native city and subsequently, like his compatriot Jorge Juan y Santacilia, at the new Spanish naval academy (Guardia Marina) in Cádiz. In 1734, at eighteen, Ulloa was chosen to accompany Juan and the French expedition going to the Indies to measure the exact length of a degree on the equator. Ulloa spent the next ten years (1735–1744) in South America, first assisting Charles Marie de la Condamine at some thirty-five different locations near Quito, then in Lima advising the viceroy on shoring up the coastal defenses of Peru. The two officers finally left for Spain in October 1744 on separate ships, but not before returning to Quito to make new observations with their own instruments. Reunited in Spain in 1746, Ulloa and Juan wrote Relación histórica del viaje a la America Meridiónal (Historical Report on the Voyage to America), a four-volume descriptive account of the various places they had visited in the Indies. They also wrote for crown officials a secret report exposing corruption, inefficiency, fraud, and abuses in the Indies that was published later in England in 1826 as an anti-Spanish tract entitled Noticias secretas de America (Secret Information on America).

Ulloa remained in the royal service for the next forty-five years. In the early 1750s he traveled about Europe garnering information on road and canal building and dredging harbors, and seeking to attract skilled artisans to migrate to Spain. In 1757 he assumed the governorship of the mercury mine at Huancavelica in Peru. Although he disliked that post intensely, he increased mercury production a bit, reduced the debt of the mine by 200,000 pesos to 77,000 pesos and exposed fraud in the royal treasuries of Peru, which led to a falling out with Viceroy Manuel de Amat y Junient in Lima. Leaving Peru in 1764 to return to Spain, Ulloa found himself sidetracked in Havana by a royal order to go to Spanish Louisiana as governor. His tenure in New Orleans from March 1766 until his forced flight on 1 November 1768 was as stormy as his time in Huancavelica, as he once again proved an unpopular, irascible administrator, especially with the French residents.

Back in Spain, Ulloa returned to Cádiz to teach and do research, his true forté.

Charles III called him back into the royal service—in the 1770s as a naval commander and in the 1780s as chief of Spanish naval operations—but Ulloa was always more content engaged in experiments in science or applied science: astronomy, navigation, bookbinding, metallurgy, printing inks, engraving, electricity and magnetism, surgical techniques, weaving, and agriculture. A representative figure of the Spanish Enlightenment, Ulloa remained intellectually vigorous until his death in 1795, the same year he published the most up-to-date guide in Europe on the latest navigational techniques.

See alsoCharles III of Spain; Science.


John J. Te Paske, ed. and trans., Discourse and Political Reflections on the Kingdoms of Peru. (1978).

Additional Bibliography

Castillo Martos, Manuel. Creadores de la ciencia moderna en España y América: Ulloa, los Delhuyar y del Río descubren el platino, el wolframio y el vanadio. Brenes, Spain: Muñoz Moya Editores Extremeños, 2005.

Molina Martínez, Miguel. Antonio de Ulloa en Huancavelica. Granada, Spain: Universidad de Granada, 1995.

Orte Lledó, Alberto. El jefe de escuadra Antonio de Ulloa y la flota de nueva España 1776–1778. Gijón, Spain: Fundación Alvargonzález, 2006.

Solano, Francisco de. La pasión de reformar: Antonio de Ulloa, marino y científico, 1716–1795. Cádiz, Spain: Universidad de Cádiz; and Sevilla: Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos, 1999.

                                      John Jay TePaske