Sarah Forbes Bonetta (Sarah Davies)(1843-1880), Goddaughter of Queen Victoria
Sitter in 4 portraits
The story of Sarah Bonetta Forbes is one of displacement and reveals how she was fetishized in both Africa and England. Born a princess into a west-African Yoruba dynasty, she was captured as a child during a slave hunt war in which her parents were killed by King Ghezo of Dahomey (1848), the most notorious slave-trading monarch in West Africa during the early nineteenth century. She was discharged by the King to Captain Frederick Forbes, who was sent to west Africa to persuade the king to abandon slavery. He bargained to save the child, convincing the King to send her as a 'gift' to Queen Victoria. On the journey to England, she was baptised 'Sarah' and given the name of Captain Forbes and his ship 'Bonetta'. This stripped her of her original name 'Aina' and symbolically, of her west-African identity. The Queen, impressed by the young girl's intelligence and dignity became her protector, funding her education and providing for her welfare. Sarah was highly regarded in the royal household, appearing at many social events including Princess Victoria's wedding, the Queen's eldest daughter. It was at one such event that a Yorubian merchant prominent in missionary circles first saw her and declared his interest in marrying her. The match was considered a suitable one and Sarah was encouraged to accept the proposal from widower James Pinson Labulo Davies. In 1862, the couple married in a lavish wedding featuring ten carriages. They settled in colonial Lagos, naming their first child Victoria with the Queen's blessing. When Sarah died of tuberculosis, aged just 37, the Queen wrote: “Saw poor Victoria Davies, my black godchild, who learnt this morning of the death of her dear mother.”
Watch a film clip on the sitter from the BBC Archive in the Media section below
- James Pinson Labulo Davies (husband)
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