How Nigerian slave girl, Sara Forbes Bonetta became goddaughter of Queen Victoria

by Rachel Ogbu//

Sara Forbes Bonetta continues to be remembered every Black History month, but who was she really? The princess, Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, or an African slave girl? The answer is all three! She was the famous ‘Black Victorian.’

Born as Aina in 1843 as royalty in the Egbado clan (Western Nigeria), she was sold into slavery after her parents were killed and her village was attacked by King Gezo of Dahomey (the most notorious slave-trading monarch in West Africa) in the early 19th century.

According to reports, she was about to be sacrificed by her captors when the British commander Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the Royal Navy (HMS Bonetta) convinced King Ghezo to present her to Queen Victoria as a gift- In Forbes words; “She would be a present from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites.”

Sparing Aina’s life, Forbes took her into his care and they stayed somewhere around West Africa for the next year. It was there he changed her name after she was baptised and given the name Sarah Forbes Bonetta. In Forbes letter, he describes Sara Forbes Bonetta as “a perfect genius; she now speaks English well, and [has] great talent for music … She is far in advance of any white child of her age in aptness of learning, and strength of mind and affection …”

Of course Queen Victoria was also enthralled by her intelligence when she met the young Bonetta on November 9, 1850, at Windsor Castle in England. The Queen declared Sarah her goddaughter and took care of her including sending her to school till she met and married her husband (Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies, a 31-year-old wealthy Yoruba businessman from Sierra Leone) at age 19 with permission from Queen Victoria.

The couple had three children: Victoria Davies in 1863 (named after Queen Victoria who also became her godmother), Arthur Davies (1871), and Stella (1873) but Bonetta died in 1880 at the age of 37. According to Royal Gazette; Young Victoria continued to visit the royal household for the rest of her life. Many of the Bonetta-Davis descendants live in and around Lagos, Nigeria.

Sara Forbes Bonetta

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