Sarah Davies (formerly Forbes Bonetta) and James Pinson Labulo Davies


Sarah Davies (formerly Forbes Bonetta) and James
Pinson Labulo Davies

by Camille Silvy, 1862
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Born in west Africa of Yoruba descent, Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880) was captured at the age of five during the Okeadon War. She was thought to be of royal lineage and was presented to Queen Victoria, as if a gift, from King Gezo of Dahomey. She was named after Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the Royal Navy, who brought her to England, on board his ship HMS Bonetta.

As Queen Victoria’s protégée, Sarah was raised among the British upper class, and educated in both England and Sierra Leone. She became an accomplished pianist and linguist. In 1862 at St Nicholas’s Church in Brighton she married the merchant and philanthropist James Pinson Labulo Davies (1829-1906). These photographs were taken to mark their marriage.

James was born in Sierra Leone to Nigerian parents, and enlisted with the British Navy. He is credited with pioneering cocoa farming in West Africa. The couple returned to Africa soon after their wedding. Queen Victoria was godmother to their first child, Victoria who later attended Cheltenham Ladies College.

The photographs are pasted into one of the daybooks that record the work of Camille Silvy, one of the most successful portrait photographers in London at the time. Find out more about Silvy’s daybooks held in the Gallery’s Collection.