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Miss Sarah Forbes Bonetta, was a Yoruba Ègbádò Omoba of royal blood, who was orphaned in a brutal massacre in her home country Nigeria, at the age of eight.
She was captured and later given to Queen Victoria by Captain Fredrick. E. Forbes of the Royal Navy who received Sarah as a gift from King Ghezo of Dahomey. Mr Forbes then gave her to Queen Victoria as a present “She would be a present from the King of the blacks to the Queen of the Whites, he later wrote in his journal.
The Queen was immediately impressed by the girl’s natural regal manner, exceptional intelligence and gift for academic studies, literature, art and music that she gave her an allowance for her welfare with Sarah becoming a regular visitor to Windsor Castle. Sarah’s genius became admired throughout the royal court and she continued to outshine her tutors with her advanced abilities in all studies spending her life between the royal household and Sierra Leone where she was educated.
Sarah was raised as Queen Victoria’s goddaughter in the British middle class and went to the Church Missionary Society to be educated, she also attended the Female Institution in Freetown, Sierra Leone. When she was 12 years old, Queen Victoria commanded that Sarah return to England, where she was placed under the charge of Mr and Mrs Schon at Chatham.
In August 1862 Sarah was sanctioned by Queen Victoria to marry James Pinson Labulo Davies at Nicholas Church in Brighton . Davies was a Yoruba businessman of considerable wealth for the period. The wedding party, was an extravagant affair and Sarah arrived from West Hill Lodge, Brighton in ten carriages and pairs of grays. There were sixteen bridesmaids and the wedding was made up of white ladies with African gentlemen, and African ladies with white gentlemen the couple later moved back to their native Yorubaland after their wedding and Sarah was baptised at a church in the town of Badagry, Lagos.
Shortly after her marriage, Sarah gave birth to a daughter and was granted permission by the Queen to name the child Victoria – the Queen also became her Godmother.
Sarah visited the Queen in 1867 with her daughter and then returned to Lagos where she had two more children.
James Davies later became very concerned about Sarah having a bad cough that would not go away, and she was later diagnosed with tuberculosis and died at the age of 37 in 1880; she was buried in Funchal Madiera.
Later, upon Sarah’s death the Queen wrote in her diary: “Saw poor Victoria Davies, my black godchild, who learnt this morning of the death of her dear mother”. So proud was Queen Victoria of Sarah’s daughter, that when she passed her music examination, teachers and children had one day holiday.
Her daughter Victoria was given an annuity by the Queen and she continued to visit the royal household throughout her life.
In his journal Captain Forbes gave an account of his mission with relation to Miss Bonetta.
I have only to add a few particulars about my extraordinary present The Yoruba child” in a former portion of these journal I have mentioned the Okeadon war; one of the captives of this dreadful slave-hunt was this interesting girl.
It is usual to reserve the best born for the high behest of royalty and the immolation on the tombs of the diseased nobility . For one of these ends she had been detained at court for two years: proving, by her not having been sold to slave dealer, that she was of a good family.
So extraordinary a present would have been at least burden, had I not the conviction that, in consideration of the nature of the service I had performed, the government would consider her as the property of the crown.
To refuse, would have been to have signed her death warrant: which, probably, would have been carried into execution forthwith. Immediately on arriving…
Of her own history she was only a confused idea. Her parents were decapitated; her brother and sisters she knows not what their fate might have been.
For her age supposed to be eight years. She is a perfect genius; she now speaks English well, and have and great talent for music. She has won the affections, with but few exceptions, of all who have known her, she is far in advance of any white child of her age, in aptness of learning, and strength of mind and affection: and with her, been an excellent specimens of the Negro race.
Story From : The Beautiful Yorubaland :Beautiful Yorubaland is the monthly magazine celebrating the best of Yoruba’s rural and urban environments.
Video: Kamal Simpson talks to Clare Gittings, Learning Manager at the National Portrait Gallery,
about Sarah Forbes Bonetta, who was photographed by Camille Silvy and features in the National Portrait Gallery collection.
This article was written by Folarin Kolawole
Founder of Naijatreks, Nigerian-born Folarin Kolawole is a geologist, travel writer and researcher. When not at work, he travels the length and breadth of Nigeria, exploring, taking photos and writing about her numerous hidden tourist potentials. 'Naijatreks' is a product name registered under the Ntreks brand, which is also duly registered by Nigeria's Federal Corporate Affairs Commission. The contents on this blog are re-usable. However, it must be ensured that it is linked back to this blog, and correctly attributed to Naijatreks or the author. Please do not edit, rewrite or commercialize the original works on this blog without direct and written permission from the Founder (Folarin Kolawole). For inquiries and advert placement on the blog, kindly contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.