Aina (Sarah Forbes Bonetta (later Davies))(1843-1880), Goddaughter of Queen Victoria
Sitter in 4 portraits
Now best known as Sarah Forbes Bonetta, Aina lived a life of extraordinary contrasts. Her story is one of displacement and reveals how she was fetishized in both Africa and England. Born in modern-day south-west Nigeria, Aina was about five years old when she was captured by soldiers of King Ghezo of Dahomey, a central figure in the transatlantic slave trade. 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. Before setting sail for England on board HMS Bonetta, Forbes had Aina baptised Sarah Forbes 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. She became one of the Queen’s favourites and by her late teens, had entered elite society. She was highly regarded in the royal household, appearing at many social events including the wedding of Princess Victoria, the Queen's eldest daughter. It was at one such event that a Sierra Leonian merchant, prominent in missionary circles, first saw her and declared his interest in marrying her. The match was considered a suitable one and Aina 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 Aina died of tuberculosis in Madeira, aged just 37, the Queen wrote: “Saw poor Victoria Davies, my black godchild, who learnt this morning of the death of her dear mother.” Caught up in Britain's imperial ambitions and plunged into Victorian high society, Aina had crossed immense boundaries between places, cultures and identities - often without a choice.
- James Pinson Labulo Davies (husband)