Antonio de Ulloa

Antonio de Ulloa
Born (1716-01-12)12 January 1716
Seville, Spain
Died 3 July 1795(1795-07-03) (aged 79)
Isla de León, Spain
Nationality Spanish
Fields Astronomy
Known for Platinum

Antonio de Ulloa y de la Torre-Giral (12 January 1716 – 3 July 1795) was a Spanish general of the navy, explorer, scientist, author, astronomer, colonial administrator and the first Spanish governor of Louisiana. He was appointed to that office after France ceded the territory to Spain in 1763, following its defeat by Great Britain in the Seven Years' War. Ulloa's rule was resisted by the French Creole colonists in New Orleans, who expelled him in 1768 from West Louisiana.

Ulloa had already established an international reputation in science, having been part of the French Geodesic Mission in present-day Ecuador. He and a fellow Spaniard discovered the element platinum and Ulloa wrote the first scientific description of it. He published an extensive record of his observations and findings on the South American trip, which was published in French in 1848 and in English as A Voyage to South America (1806). He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.


Ulloa was born in Seville, Spain. His father was an economist. Ulloa entered the navy in 1733. In 1735, he, along with fellow Spaniard Jorge Juan, was appointed to the French Geodesic Mission. The French Academy of Sciences was sending this scientific expedition to present-day Ecuador to measure a degree of meridian arc at the equator.

Ulloa worked in Ecuador from 1736 to 1744, during which time the two Spaniards discovered the element platinum in the area. Ulloa was the first person to write a scientific description of the metal.[1] In 1745, having finished their scientific labours, Ulloa and Jorge Juan prepared to return to Spain, agreeing to travel on different ships in order to minimize the danger of losing their important samples and records.

Antonio Ulloa yde la Torre-Guiral

The ship upon which Ulloa was travelling was captured by the British, and he was taken to England as a prisoner. In that country, through his scientific attainments, Ulloa gained the friendship of the men of science, and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. In a short time, through the influence of the president of this society, he was released and able to return to Spain. He published an account of the people and countries he had encountered during the French Geodesic Mission (1748), which was translated into English and published as A Voyage to South America (1806).[2]

Ulloa became prominent as a scientist and was appointed to serve on various important scientific commissions. He is credited with the establishment of the first museum of natural history, the first metallurgical laboratory in Spain, and the observatory of Cadiz. In 1751, de Ulloa was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

In 1758 he returned to South America as governor of Huancavelica in Peru and the general manager of the quicksilver mines there. He held this position until 1764.

After France was defeated by the English in the Seven Years' War, it ceded its territories west of the Mississippi River to Spain. Ulloa was appointed by the Spanish Crown to serve as the first Spanish governor of West Louisiana, and reached New Orleans, the major city and port, on 5 March 1766. The French colonists refused to recognize Spanish rule, and expelled Ulloa from Louisiana by a Creole uprising during the Louisiana Rebellion of 1768.

For the remainder of his life, Ulloa served as a naval officer. In 1779 he became lieutenant-general of the naval forces. Ulloa died at Isla de Leon, Cádiz, in 1795.


Bust of Antonio de Ulloa in Mitad del Mundo, Ecuador

As a result of his scientific work in Peru, Ulloa published Relación histórica del viaje á la América Meridional (Madrid, 1784), which contains a full, accurate, and clear description of the greater part of South America geographically, and of its inhabitants and natural history. (It was published in English in 1806.)

In collaboration with Jorge Juan mentioned above, he also wrote Noticias secretas de América, giving valuable information regarding the early religious orders in Spanish America. This work was published by David Barry in London, 1826.[3]

Ulloa is the namesake for the meteorological term "Ulloa's halo"[4] (also known as "Bouguer's halo"), which an observer may see infrequently in fog when the sun breaks through (for example, on a mountain) — effectively a "fog-bow" (as opposed to a "rain-bow").[5] A fog-bow is defined as "an infrequently observed meteorological phenomenon; a faint white, circular arc or complete ring of light that has a radius of 39 degrees and is centered on the antisolar point. When observed, it is usually in the form of a separate outer ring around an anticorona." [6]


  1. Larrie D. Ferreiro (20 August 2013). Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World. Basic Books. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-465-02345-5.
  2. Antonio de Ulloa, John Adams translator (1806, edition 4) A Voyage to South America, Biodiversity Heritage Library
  3. Antonio Ulloa and Jorge Juan (1826 edition) Noticias Secretas de America, HathiTrust
  4. Paul Murdin (25 December 2008). Full Meridian of Glory: Perilous Adventures in the Competition to Measure the Earth. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-387-75534-2.
  5. Fred Schaaf (1983). Wonders of the Sky: Observing Rainbows, Comets, Eclipses, the Stars, and Other Phenomena. Courier Corporation. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-486-24402-0.
  6. Tricker, R.A.R.. An Introduction to Meteorological Optics. 1970. pp. 192–193

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Ventura Fuentes (1913). "Antonio de Ulloa". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. 

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Preceded by
Charles Philippe Aubry
Spanish Governor of Louisiana
Succeeded by
Charles Philippe Aubry (acting)
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