Shore, Sir John

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SHORE, SIR JOHN (1751–1834), governor-general of India (1793–1798). John Shore was born on 8 October 1751. Appointed a writer, the clerical entry level, in the East India Company, he arrived in Bengal in 1769, just as the great trading company was taking over the collection of the land revenues, the key to political control of India. In the next twenty years Shore, through his mastery of how the revenue and judicial systems of Bengal worked, persuaded his superiors that British control of India would only be possible through a just and stable settlement of the land revenue. For Shore, there were three great revenue issues. One was to find out who were the actual owners of the land; the second was to decide how much tax the peasants could reasonably be expected to pay; and third, what kind of revenue system the British should establish in Bengal to ensure the continuance of their rule.

After sixteen years in Bengal, Shore returned to England in 1785; in 1786 he was asked to go back to India as revenue adviser to the new governor-general, Lord Cornwallis, whose mandate was to increase the British government's control over the East India Company. Shore argued that throughout Mughal times the zamindars, or great landlords, had been the hereditary proprietors of the soil, and that although the fairest system would be to make a settlement directly with the peasants, the company had neither the knowledge nor the personnel to institute such a drastic change. A ten-year settlement, he was convinced, would give the government time to come to a clear understanding of how the system worked. In the end, however, Cornwallis decided for a permanent settlement, which meant recognizing the zamindars as the hereditary owners and guaranteeing that the revenue payment fixed at the beginning would be perpetual.

Shore returned to England in 1790 but went back to India as governor-general from 1793 to 1798. His contemporaries were critical of his preoccupation with revenue reforms, instead of seizing opportunities that might have brought more territory to the British. On his return to England, he was created Lord Teignmouth in the Irish peerage. Shore's organization of the bureaucracy to carry out defined revenue functions, while not glamorous, argues for claiming for him a significant role in shaping India as a modern state.

Ainslie T. Embree

See alsoBritish East India Company Raj


The most complete account of Shore's public and private life is Memoir of the Life and Correspondence of John, Lord Teignmouth (London: Hatchard, 1843), by his son, Baron Teignmouth. Holden Furber, Private Record of an Indian Governor-Generalship (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933) is more critical. Ranajit Guha, A Rule of Property for Bengal (Paris: Mouton, 1963) is the best account of the revenue settlement.