German Jesuit missionary in China and noted explorer of the seventeenth century; b. October 28, 1623; d. in 1665
Grueber, JOHANN, German Jesuit missionary in China and noted explorer of the seventeenth century; b. at Linz, October 28, 1623; d. in 1665. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1641, and went to China in 1656, where he was active at the court of Peking as professor of mathematics and assistant to Father Adam Schall von Bell. In 1661 his superiors sent him, together with the Belgian Father Albert de Dorville (D’Orville), to Rome on business concerning the order. As it was impossible to journey by sea on account of the blockade of Macao by the Dutch, they conceived the daring idea of going overland to India by way of China and Thibet. This led to Grueber’s memorable journey (Dorville died on the way), which won him fame as one of the most successful explorers of the seventeenth century (Tonnier). They first travelled to Sinning-fu, on the borders of Kan-su; thence, through the Kukunor territory and Kalmuck Tartary (Desertum Kalnac), to the “Holy City” of Lhasa in Thibet; crossed, amid countless difficulties and hardships, the mountain passes of the Himalayas; arrived at Nepal, and thence passed over the Ganges plateau to Patna and Agra. This journey lasted two hundred and four-teen days. Dorville died at Agra, a victim of the hardships he had undergone. Grueber, accompanied by a Sanskrit scholar, Father Henry Roth, followed the overland route through Asia and succeeded in reaching Europe. His journey produced a sensation similar to that aroused in our times by the explorations of Sven Hedin. It showed the possibility of a direct overland connection between China and India, and the value and significance of the Himalayan passes. Tonnier says: “It is due to Grueber’s energy that Europe received the first correct information concerning Thibet and its inhabitants.” Although Oderico of Pordenone had traversed Thibet, in 1327, and visited Lhasa, he had not written any account of this journey. Antonio de Andrada and Manuel Marquez had pushed their explorations as far as Tsparang on the northern Setledj. In 1664 Grueber set out to return to China, attempted to push his way through Russia, was obliged to return, and then undertook the land route to Asia. He was taken sick in Constantinople and died in Florence, or, according to others, in Patak, Hungary.
An account of this first journey through Thibet in modern times was published by Father Athanasius Kircher to whom Grueber had left his journals and charts, which he had supplemented by numerous verbal and written additions (“China illustrata”, Amsterdam, 1667, 64-67). In the French edition of “China” (Amsterdam, 1670) is also incorporated a letter of Grueber written to the Duke of Tuscany. For letters of Grueber see “Neue Welt-Bott” (Augsburg and Gratz, 1726), no. 34; Thevenot (whose acquaintance Grueber had made in Constantinople), “Divers voyages curieux” (Paris, 1666, 1672, 1692), II; extracts in Ritter, “Asien” (Berlin, 1833), II, 173; III, 453; IV, 88, 183; Anzi, “Il genio vagante” (Parma, 1692), III, 331-399.