The Beagle had turned its back on South America, mission complete, and was now beginning the voyage home. The 3200 mile journey to the Polynesian islands took only 3 weeks. Despite their natural beauty Darwin, now quite homesick, found them ‘uninteresting’. Although he enjoyed the tropical luxuriance and some long treks in the volcanic peaks, collecting samples and specimens as always, it seems the island’s inhabitants that most caught his eye were the people. He noted their appearance; the women shaved the tops of their heads, why? ‘it is the fashion & that is answer enough at Tahiti as well as Paris’ Darwin concluded.
He was most impressed though by the response of the islanders to missionaries. It was part of Britain’s expanding empire to send out religious young men to educate and ‘civilise’ native peoples. Darwin, with his Anglican upbringing, felt they were doing a splendid job in turning the reportedly savage locals to a more British way of life. He wrote then that the ‘state of morality & religion is highly creditable’ and would in later years regularly give money to help fund the education work of missionaries.