Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sarah Forbes Bonetta - The African Princess in Brighton

Author: Toyin Ashiru

Miss Sarah Forbes Bonetta, was a West African Egbado Omoba of royal blood, who was orphaned in a brutal massacre in her home country 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.

Sarah would later gain a long lasting cough that was caused by the climate transferring from Africa to Great Britain which would later prove to be fatal.

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 extravgent 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 Africa after their wedding and Sarah was baptised at a church in the town of Badagry, a former slave port.

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 dying 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 African 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.

Toyin Ashiru


  1. Indeed, very interesting. Thanks for the story Toyin

  2. This is an amazing story. I applaud the Queen for not having treated her with anything but the respect all royalty deserves. Nice storyated her with anything but the respect all royalty deserves. Nice story

  3. It's good to know she wasn't mistreated.

  4. I enjoyed this article immensely. Thank you for sharing.

  5. We have located her unmarked grave her in the English cemetery in Funchal Madeira which has since been cleared and stones placed to outline. We are hoping to erect a memorial to her, it would be wonderful if this could be a copy of the one erected by her husband in Lagos which was an 8 ft high obalix. If anyone has a picture of this obalix we would love to see a copy


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