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John Shore, first Baron Teignmouth (1751-1834)

This article was written by George Fisher Russell Barker and was publishedin 1897

John Shore was born in St. James's Street, Piccadilly, on 8 October 1751. He was the elder son of Thomas Shore of Melton Place, near Romford, sometime supercargo to the East India Company, by his wife Dorothy, daughter of Captain Shepherd of the East India Company's naval service.

At the age of fourteen young Shore was sent to Harrow, where he was placed in the fifth form, and had Halhed, Sheridan, and Francis, lord Rawdon (afterwards marquis of Hastings), among his contemporaries. In his seventeenth year Shore was removed to a commercial school at Hoxton for the purpose of learning bookkeeping, and towards the close of 1768 he sailed for India as a writer in the East India Company's service. Soon after his arrival in Calcutta in May 1769, he was appointed to the secret political department, in which he remained for about twelve months.

In September 1770 he was nominated assistant to the board of revenue at Moorshedabad. Owing to the indolence of the chief of his department, and the absence of the second in command on a special mission, Shore at the age of nineteen suddenly found himself invested with the civil and fiscal jurisdiction of a large district. In spite, however, of his laborious official work, he found time to devote himself to the study of oriental languages. In 1772 Shore proceeded to Rajeshahe as first assistant to the resident of that province. In the following year he acted temporarily as Persian translator and secretary to the board at Moorshedabad. In June 1775 he was appointed a member of the revenue council at Calcutta. He continued to hold that post until the dissolution of the council at the close of 1780. Though he revised one of the bitter philippics launched by Francis against Hastings, and is said to have written one of the memorials against the supreme court and Sir Elijah Impey, he was appointed by the governor-general to a seat in the committee of revenue at Calcutta, which took the place of the provincial council.

Shore quickly gained the confidence and regard of Hastings by his unceasing attention to his duties. Besides superintending the collection of the revenues, he devoted much of his time to the adjudication of exchequer cases. He acted as revenue commissioner in Dacca and Behar, and drew up plans for judicial and financial reforms. Deploring the lavish profusion of the governor-general, Shore communicated his views of the financial situation to John (afterwards Sir John) Macpherson, who, instead of privately imparting them to Hastings, inserted them as a minute on the records of the supreme council. In consequence of this breach of confidence Shore resigned his seat at the board. In January 1785 he returned to England in the company of Hastings, who during the voyage composed a paraphrase of one of Horace's odes which he addressed to Shore. While in England Shore married, on 14 February 1786, Charlotte, only daughter of James Cornish, a medical practitioner at Teignmouth.

Having been appointed by the court of directors to a seat in the supreme council, Shore returned to India, and on 21 January 1787 took his seat as a member of the government of Bengal. His knowledge of the judicial and fiscal affairs of Bengal was both extensive and profound, and many of the reforms instituted by Cornwallis were attributable to his influence in the council. In the summer of 1789 Shore completed the decennial settlement of the revenues of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa. His minute of 18 June 1789, which extends to 562 paragraphs, still remains the text book on the subject of the Bengal zámíndari system. Though Shore recommended caution and further inquiry, and protested against fixity, his decision in favour of the proprietary rights of the zamindárs was hastily ratified by Cornwallis and formed the basis of the much discussed permanent settlement. In December 1789 Shore embarked for England, where he arrived in April 1790. He is said to have refused the offer of a baronetcy on the ground of ‘the incompatibility of poverty and titles’. On 2 June 1790 he was examined as a witness in the trial of Warren Hastings with regard to the transactions of the committee of revenue at Calcutta, and testified to his friend's popularity among the natives.

Shore was appointed by the court of directors governor-general of India in succession to Cornwallis on 19 September 1792, and was created a baronet on 2 October following. Burke protested vainly against the appointment of ‘a principal actor and party in certain offences charged against Mr. Hastings’, and Shore embarked for India at the end of the month. On 10 March 1793 he arrived at Calcutta, where he remained without official employment or responsibility until the departure of Cornwallis. He succeeded to the government on 28 October 1793.

The period of Shore's rule as governor-general was comparatively uneventful. He implicitly obeyed the pacific injunctions of parliament and the East India Company, and pursued a thoroughly unambitious and equitable policy. Being more anxious to extend the trade than the territories of the company, his policy was attacked by the jingoes of that period as temporising and timid. That there was some truth in this cannot be denied. He acquiesced in the successful invasion by the Mahrattas of the dominions of the nizam; he permitted the growth of a French subsidiary force in the service of more than one native power; he thwarted Lord Hobart's efforts for extending the sphere of British influence; he allowed the growth and aggressions of the Sikh states in northern India; and he looked on passively while Tippoo was preparing for war. The only answer to these charges is that Shore faithfully obeyed his instructions, and nothing more could be expected of him. Though he showed great weakness in dealing with the mutiny of the officers of the Bengal army, he displayed courage of a very high order in settling the question of the Oude succession. His substitution of Saadut Ali for Vizier Ali met with universal approval in India, and the court of directors recorded that ‘in circumstances of great delicacy and embarrassment Sir John Shore had conducted himself with great temper, ability, and firmness.’

As a reward for his services Shore was created Baron Teignmouth in the peerage of Ireland by letters patent executed at Dublin on 3 March 1798. Resigning the government into the hands of Sir Alured Clarke, he left India in March 1798, and on his return to England received the thanks of the court of directors ‘for his distinguished merit and attention in the administration of every branch of the company's service during the period in which he held the office of governor-general.’ On 4 April 1807 he was appointed a member of the board of control, an office to which no salary was attached, and four days afterwards was sworn a member of the privy council. He occasionally transacted business at the board of control, or at the Cockpit, where as a privy councillor he sometimes decided Indian appeals with Sir William Grant and Sir John Nicholl. But he soon lost all interest in Indian affairs, and occupied the greater part of his time in religious and philanthropic matters, though he nominally remained a member of the board until February 1828.

He never took his seat in the Irish House of Lords, nor was he elected a representative peer after the union. He was twice examined before the House of Commons on Indian affairs, on 18 June 1806, and on 30 March 1813. In consequence of the order of the House of Commons for Teignmouth's attendance on the first occasion, the House of Lords on 19 July 1806 passed a resolution maintaining the privilege of peerage as apart from the privilege of parliament. This resolution, however, was not communicated to the commons, and on the second occasion the order of the commons for Teignmouth's attendance was not questioned by the lords.

Shore became a prominent member of the evangelical party known as the Clapham sect, which included the Thorntons, Charles Grant, John Venn, Zachary Macaulay, and William Wilberforce. From 1802 to 1808 he lived at Clapham. In the latter year he removed to London, where he passed the remainder of his days. Shore was elected the first president of the British and Foreign Bible Society on 14 May 1804, and held that office until the end of his life. He took an active part in the various controversies to which that institution gave rise, and gave his decision in favour of the exclusion of the apocryphal books from all editions of the Bible issued by the society. He died at his house in Portman Square on 14 February 1834, aged 82, and was buried in Marylebone parish church, where a monument was erected to his memory.

Teignmouth had three sons and six daughters by his wife, who died on 13 July 1834. He was succeeded in the title by his eldest son, Charles John Shore, who represented Marylebone in the House of Commons from March 1838 to June 1841, and died on 18 September 1885.

Teignmouth was a hard-working and useful administrator. His talents were moderate, and his religious views were strong; but of his ‘integrity, humanity, and honour it is impossible to speak too highly’.

Teignmouth was elected president of the Royal Society of Literature, but declined the office in favour of Bishop Burgess. He was the intimate friend of Sir William Jones (1746-1794) whom he succeeded as president of the Asiatic Society of Bengal on 22 May 1794, when he delivered an address on the ‘Literary History’ of his predecessor which has been frequently reprinted, and has been translated into Italian. Three of his contributions to the society are printed in ‘Asiatick Researches’. He translated in three manuscript volumes the Persian version of an abridgment of the ‘Jôg Bashurst,’ but afterwards destroyed them in consequence of the little encouragement which his translations of Persian versions of Hindoo authors received. He wrote a number of articles for the ‘Christian Observer,’ and the earlier annual reports of the Bible Society were wholly written by him. He was also the author of some mediocre verse.

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