Sarah Forbes Bonetta

Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a Yoruba princess of the Egbado clan, is best known as Queen Victoria of Great Britain’s goddaughter. Bonetta was born in what is now southwest Nigeria around 1843. Her parents’ identities are unknown, as are the names of her siblings, all of whom were slaughtered in the 1847 slave raid that took Bonetta hostage.

King Gezo of Dahomey, the most known slave trafficking monarch in West Africa in the early 19th century, invaded Bonetta’s town of Okeadan. Gezo’s soldiers grabbed the four-year-old girl with the intention of collecting slaves and executing any who refused to be taken. For unknown reasons, the girl was not slain and stayed at Gezo’s Court until 1849, when British Commander Frederick Forbes landed the HMS Bonetta in Dahomey to urge Gezo to stop slave raids and selling. Forbes became aware of the young girl and negotiated for her life. “She would be a present from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites,” he persuaded King Gezo to “give” her to Queen Victoria. For the following year, the girl stayed with Forbes in West Africa, where she was christened and given the name Sarah Forbes Bonetta. “She is a wonderful genius; she now speaks English fluently and [has] excellent flair for music,” Forbes said. She is much ahead of any white youngster her age in learning ability, mental power, and devotion…”

Sarah Forbes Bonetta was escorted to the United Kingdom and visited Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on November 9, 1850. When Forbes died in early 1851, the Queen was pleased by her intelligence and left her care to the Schoen family in Palm Cottage, Gillingham. Sarah was proclaimed the Queen’s goddaughter, and her tuition was funded. Sarah, as a child, became a frequent visitor to Windsor Castle.

However, less than a year after arriving, young Bonetta developed a cough that was thought to be caused by the British climate. Queen Victoria ordered for her to be moved to Sierra Leone, believing it would be a better climate for Bonetta. In Freetown, she attended the Female Institution, a Church Missionary Society institution. Bonetta excelled in music and intellectual studies, but she was unhappy, so the Queen brought her back to England in 1855.

Bonetta, at 19, was a guest at the wedding of Princess Royal Victoria, the Queen’s eldest child, in January 1862. Queen Victoria granted Bonetta permission to marry Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies, a rich Yoruba merchant from Sierra Leone, in August of that year. The pair tied the knot in a lavish ceremony at St. Nicholas Church in Brighton, England. Sarah arrived for the event in a ten-car carriage procession. The couple briefly resided in Bristol, England before returning to Sierra Leone.

Bonetta began teaching at a Freetown school as Davies continued his job. She gave birth to a girl shortly after her marriage and was given permission by the Queen to name her Victoria. The Queen also became the godmother of little Victoria. Sarah and her daughter paid another visit to the Queen in 1867. This would be Sarah’s final visit. Her cough persisted, and she was eventually diagnosed with TB. Bonetta had two more children before passing away in 1880 at the age of 37. Sarah’s daughter was still supported by Queen Victoria. She contributed to Victoria’s schooling and provided her with an income. For the rest of her life, Victoria paid visits to the royal household. Many descendants of Bonetta-Davis reside in and around Lagos, Nigeria.

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