This is episode four of series on Charles Darwin’s five-year journey aboard the HMS Beagle. Darwin arrived in Tahiti in November 1835 and spent a month there. He was struck by the beauty of the island and its people, whom he described as “the finest race of savages in the world.” He was particularly impressed by their hospitality, noting that they were “good-tempered and cheerful, honest and obliging.” Darwin also observed the Tahitians’ social customs, such as their elaborate tattoos and their practice of polygamy.

Learn about his time on the island, the start of European colonisation, and the coming of Christianity. Conflict and conquest cast a shadow over Tahiti’s future. European contact with Tahiti had immense consequences for the Tahitians. It brought new technologies and goods, such as firearms and textiles, but it also introduced diseases such as smallpox, which decimated the population. See how European visitors and traders exploited the Tahitians, leading to conflict and resentment. There was also the immense impact of the London Missionary Society, and the spread of Christianity. Missionaries viewed Tahiti less as paradise, and more as a place of vice and paganism. 

Despite these challenges, the Tahitians maintained their distinct culture and way of life. Darwin’s visit to the island provided a glimpse into their world and contributed to his understanding of the diversity of human societies. In 1842, France claimed Tahiti as a protectorate, and in 1843, it established a naval base on the island. This led to a series of conflicts between the French and the Tahitians, culminating in the French Tahitian War in 1844. 

Darwin’s visit was a window into a vanishing world. Join me as we cover Darwin’s time in paradise and learn about the last decade of independent Tahiti before the arrival of the French in the 1840s. 

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