Black history month day 15: British noblewoman and the goddaughter of Queen Victoria, Sara Forbes Bonetta.
Lady Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies (photographed-Camille Silvy,1862) born into a royal West African dynasty, and orphaned in 1848 at five years old when her parents were killed in a slave-hunting war. In 1850, Sarah was was rescued from becoming a human sacrifice by Captain Frederick E. Forbes and taken to England as a “gift” from the African King of Dahomey to Queen Victoria. She became the Queen’s Goddaughter and a celebrity known for her extraordinary intelligence. She spent much of her life between the British royal household until her death from tuberculosis in 1880.
At the age of five, Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies, born into a Royal, West African dynasty, was taken to England and presented to Queen Victoria as a “gift” from one royal family to another. A unique and admired figure in history, she spent her life between the British royal household and her homeland in Africa.
Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies, a West African Yoruba girl, was captured by the King of Dahomey in 1848 during a “slave-hunt” war in which her parents were killed. In 1850, when she was around eight years old, she was rescued by Captain Frederick E Forbes of the Royal Navy whilst he was visiting Dahomey as an emissary of the British Government. Forbes convinced King Ghezo of Dahomey to give Sarah to Queen Victoria saying: “She would be a present from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites.” The young girl was subsequently given the name Forbes as well as that of his ship, the ‘Bonetta’.
She returned to England with Forbes who presented her to Queen Victoria, who in turn gave her over to the Church Missionary Society to be educated. Sarah suffered from fragile health and in 1851 she returned to Africa to attend the Female Institution in Freetown, Sierra Leone. When she was 12 years old, Queen Victoria commanded that Sarah return to England, where she was placed under the charge of Mr and Mrs Schon at Chatham.
Queen Victoria was so impressed by the girl’s natural regal manner and her gift for academic studies, Literature, Art and Music that she gave her an allowance for her welfare and Sarah became a regular visitor to Windsor Castle. Sarah’s genius became admired throughout the royal court and she continued to outshine her tutors with her advanced abilities in all studies.
At the age of 18, Sarah received a proposal from James Pinson Labulo Davies, a 31 year old Yoruba businessman of considerable wealth who was living in Britain. She initially refused his proposal and it is reported that in order to persuade her to accept Sarah was sent to live with two elderly ladies in Brighton whose house she described as a “desolate little pig sty”.
Queen Victoria sanctioned Sarah to be married in St Nicholas Church in Brighton in August 1862. The wedding party, which arrived from West Hill Lodge, Brighton in ten carriages and pairs of grays, was made up of “White ladies with African gentlemen, and African ladies with White gentlemen” There were sixteen bridesmaids. The newlyweds moved back to West Africa and Sarah was baptised at a church in the town of Badagry, a former slave port. They settled in Lagos where her husband became a member of the Legislative Council from 1872-74 (in which year Lagos Colony was for a time amalgamated into the Gold Coast).
Shortly after her marriage, Sarah gave birth to a daughter and was granted permission by the Queen to name the child Victoria – the Queen also became her Godmother.
Sarah visited the Queen in 1867 with her daughter then returned to Lagos and had two more children. Later, upon Sarah’s death the Queen wrote in her diary: “Saw poor Victoria Davies, my black godchild, who learnt this morning of the death of her dear mother”. So proud was Queen Victoria of Sarah’s daughter, that when she passed her music examination, teachers and children had one day holiday. Throughout her life Sarah had a long lasting cough that was caused by the climate change between Africa and Britain. In 1880, suffering from tuberculosis, she went to convalesce in Madeira off of the coast of West Africa. She died, around the age of 40, in 1880 and was buried in Funchal, Madiera.
Her daughter Victoria was given an annuity by the Queen and she continued to visit the royal household throughout her life. In his journal Captain Forbes gave an account of his mission with relation to Miss Bonetta.
“I have only to add a few particulars about my extraordinary present The African child”. In a former portion of this journal I have mentioned the Okeadon war; one of the captives of this dreadful slave-hunt was this interesting girl.
It is usual to reserve the best born for the high behest of royalty and the immolation on the tombs of the diseased nobility. For one of these ends she had been detained at court for two years: proving, by her not having been sold to slave dealer, that she was of a good family.
So extraordinary a present would have been at least burden, had I not the conviction that, in consideration of the nature of the service I had performed, the government would consider her as the property of the crown.
To refuse, would have been to have signed her death warrant which, probably, would have been carried into execution forthwith. Immediately on arriving…
Of her own history she was only a confused idea. Her parents were decapitated; her brother and sisters she knows not what their fate might have been .
For her age supposed to be eight years. She is a perfect genius; she now speaks English well, and has a great talent for music. She has won the affections, with but few exceptions, of all who have known her, she is far in advance of any white child of her age, in aptness of learning, and strength of mind and affection.”
The Adopted Goddaughter of Queen Victoria: Sara Forbes Bonetta
Sara was originally named Aina and was born in 1843 into the West African Egbado clan. When she was a young child, Sara’s village was raided by soldiers from the kingdom of Dahomey. After both of her parents were killed in the raid, the five-year-old Sara was captured as a slave and was possibly intended as a human sacrifice. But Captain Frederick Forbes of the Royal Navy took notice of the little girl and persuaded King Gehzo of the Dahomey to offer Sara as a gift to the English Queen Victoria.It was then that she was given her name of Sara Forbes Bonetta. Forbes, the last name of the Captain; and Bonetta, the name of the Captain’s ship.
Queen Victoria was delighted by Sara and found her very intelligent. It was at this time that Victoria adopted Sara as her goddaughter and arranged for her to be comfortably brought up in the British middle class. Although Sara was sent to school in Africa for a short while, she grew homesick and returned to finish her education in England. In 1862, she was present at the wedding of Victoria’s daughter Alice. In the same year, Sara married James Pinson Labulo Davies, an African merchant and businessman.
Sara and Davies returned to Africa, specifically to Lagos,Nigeria, where they would have three children. In 1880, Sara died of tuberculosis on the island of Madeira. A monument was erected to Sara in Lagos by her husband after her death. Today, her descendants still live in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and England.
Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies, born into a royal Yoruba dynasty, and stolen as a child by the King of Dahomey during a slave-trading war. She was taken to England and presented to Queen Victoria as a “gift” from one royal family to another. She spent her life between the British royal household and her homeland in Africa.
Lady Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies, photographed by Camille Silvy, 1862 Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies was a child born into a royal West African dynasty. She was orphaned in 1848, when her parents were killed in a slave-hunting war. She was around five years old. In 1850, Sarah was taken to England and presented to Queen Victoria as a “gift” from the King of Dahomey. She became the queen’s goddaughter and a celebrity known for her extraordinary intelligence.
Sara Forbes Bonetta (Born 1843, died 1880, 37 years old) was a West African EgbadoOmoba who was orphaned in inter-tribal warfare and subsequently captured by slave-raiders. Intended by her Dahomeyan captors to be a human sacrifice, she was rescued by Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the Royal Navy, who convinced King Ghezo of Dahomey to give her toQueen Victoria, “She would be a present from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites,” Forbes wrote later. He named her Sara Forbes Bonetta, Bonetta after his ship the HMS Bonetta. Victoria was impressed by the young princess’ exceptional intelligence, and had Sara raised as her goddaughter in the British middle class.
In 1851 Forbes Bonetta gained a long lasting cough, believed to be caused by the climate of Great Britain. She was sent to school in Africa in May of that year, at age eight, but was unhappy and returned to England in 1855 at the age of twelve. In January 1862 she was invited to and attended the wedding of the princess royal Victoria. She was later sanctioned by the Queen to marry Captain James Davies at St Nicholas’ Church in Brighton in August, 1862, after a period which was to be spent in the town in preparation for the wedding. During her subsequent time in Bristol, she lived at 17 Clifton Hill in theMontpelier area. Captain Davies was a Yoruba businessman of considerable wealth for the period, and the couple moved back to their native Africa after their wedding.
Sara was subsequently baptized at a church in the town of Badagry, a former slave port. She died at the age of 37 in 1880 oftuberculosis. Her husband had previously been concerned about her because she appeared to have had a cough that would not go away; she was eventually diagnosed with what was termed the consumption. Her daughter by him, christened Victoria, also served as the goddaughter of the Queen of the British Empire. A great many of both her and her daughter’s descendants now live in England andSierra Leone while a separate group of them, the aristocratic Randle family of Lagos, remains prominent in contemporary Nigeria
Lady Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies 1862. Born into a royal West African Dynasty, and orphaned 1848, when her parents were killed in a slave hunting war. At the age of only 5 , she was taken to England and presented to Queen Victoria as a “gift” from the King of Dahomey. She became the Queen’s Goddaughter and a celebrity, renowned for her extraordinary intelligence.