In 1777, the assistant pastor of Tamazula, Nueva Vizcaya composed a detailed report on the local geography, climate, natural history, and mineralogy, listing the many plants and animals and few artisans that were present in his rural parish. The overall presentation is frank and rigorous, more like a scientific report than any kind of propaganda appeal. There is no mention of the local church (San Ignacio de Tamazula) nor its diocese (Durango). The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas has an eight page long typescript copy of an original from the Biblioteca Nacional de España.

The author of the report, Agustín Fernández, labelled each section as "according to the instruction" (con arreglo a la instrucción), "conforming to the instruction" (conforme a la instrucción), "conforming to the instructions" (conforme a las instrucciones), or "conforming to the model" (conforme a la física) of the señor Don Antonio de Ulloa, a prominent naturalist and naval officer. Ulloa was briefly in Mexico in 1777-1778 to command the voyage of the imperial treasure fleet from Veracruz to Cádiz, but it seems more likely that the "instruction" in question was a model of Ulloa's for geographical writing, than a command Ulloa gave anyone.

What reason did assistant pastor Fernández have for writing this sizeable report, and to whom would he have sent it?


A royal project of the late 1500s collected geographical reports from across New Spain. Perhaps reflecting this practice, in the 1740s the naturalist Ulloa compiled geographical details in Perú, research which was later published in books called Relación histórica del viaje a la América Meridional and Noticias secretas de América.

The article by Francisco de Solano, Valor y significado de la "descripción de la nueva España, 1778", obra inédita de Antonio de Ulloa, described Ulloa's project to do something similar on his later trip to Mexico. Ulloa put together a questionnaire of about sixty questions which Secretary of the Indies José de Galvez deferentially allowed him to propagate. According to Solano, "local authorities in the greater part of the Viceroyalty responded". Fernández, though he was not a parish priest nor a mayor, must have been one of these.

On his voyage back to Spain, Ulloa wrote a descripción de la nueva España that covered only the regions that he personally visited. It was published in the 20th century as Descripción geográfico-física de una parte de la Nueva España de Antonio de Ulloa, y su correspondencia privada con el virrey don Antonio María de Bucareli. The collection of relaciones geográficas de la Nueva España 1777/1778 is held in Spain's National Library and reproduced in works by Francisco del Paso y Troncoso. Without further analyzing the provenance of all these documents, Ulloa seemingly brought them to Spain on the 1778 treasure fleet.

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    Just what I expected to have found - if I could read more Spanish. I saw inklings of something like this existing - I'm glad to see you tracked it all down. Apr 14 '20 at 17:08
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    @PieterGeerkens thanks for helping out! Apr 14 '20 at 17:39

The report could be intended for publication, or for his church authorities. Catholic priests, especially Jesuits, are known for many scientific activities in all areas of science, from geography and ethnography to astronomy, mathematics and linguistic studies. Their contribution is very substantial. Jesuits run a network of schools of various level and universities.


  • I have pretty much ruled out the church as motivator because the author never mentions it. What could be the publication venue? Apr 12 '20 at 4:22
  • Fernández was not a Jesuit. Apr 12 '20 at 4:53
  • Hadn't all Jesuits been expelled from Spanish provinces by then? About a decade or two earlier. Apr 12 '20 at 10:23
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    I did not claim that these activities were limited to Jesuits. Think of Nicolas Copernicus or Gregor Mendel, or Kugler, Strassmaier and Epping. All of them from Catholic clergy. What motivated their scientific activities? Scientific research is a natural occupation for a well educated person with a lot of free time.
    – Alex
    Apr 12 '20 at 14:13

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