Antonio de Ulloa, best known as the coauthor with Jorge Juan of the Noticias secretas de América, was a versatile figure. Part of his long career was spent as an American administrator, first of Huancavelica (1757-64) and then of Louisiana (1766-68). In both posts he provoked great hostility; government was not, indeed, a task suited to his many gifts.
Miguel Molina Martínez (author of El Real Tribunal de Minería de Lima, 1785-1821, 1986) offers a clear account of Ulloa’s trials and achievements at Huancavelica. Ferdinand Vi’s administration named him to the governorship in 1757 with the intention that he, a well-trained and experienced scientist, should revive the flagging mercury mine. So advanced was the decay of the mine, however, and so rooted in their ways were those who oversaw its working, that Ulloa could manage only limited success and soon began to petition for removal from his position. Not until 1764 was his request heeded.
Molina Enríquez shows us Ulloa at loggerheads with almost everyone, it would seem, in Huancavelica, and indeed with the viceregal administration and the Audiencia in Lima as well. The powers in Lima saw in his activism a threat to their own influence over Huancavelica. The gremio (guild) of miners who worked the deposits there soon had many complaints against him, principally over his attempts, first, to rationalize and modernize the working, and the workings, of the mine; and, second, to curtail sundry profitable collusions between the gremio and the existing governing establishment at Huancavelica (notably the treasury officials). Those administrators also resented his presence, for the same reason. Particularly intriguing, however, is the animosity that arose between Ulloa and the parish clergy of the town. Regalist that he was, Ulloa was incensed by what he saw as the excessive role that the parish priests had assumed in the government and even the judicial life of the town. Some of the exchanges, mutatis mutandis, could have come from the 1560s, when Philip II had sought to grind away the accreted powers of the regular clergy in American parishes.
Ulloa appears here as the archetypal Bourbon reformer—scientific in knowledge and method, dismissive and disdainful of Americans of all levels, puzzled and infuriated by the resistance that he aroused. Molina Enriquez may, perhaps, draw the view too starkly. The book is grounded almost wholly in research in the Archivo de las Indias. The use of local sources would have added necessary shades of grey to the picture. Nonetheless, the work is enlightening on a famous figure, a famous place, and an early effort in that famous process, the attempted Bourbon remaking of Spanish America.