How this Yoruba slave became a gift to the Queen of England in 1850

Born into a West African royal dynasty, Sarah Forbes Bonetta was captured by King Gezo of Dahomey during a slave-hunting war in 1848.

Her parents were killed in the war, and as the daughter of an African chief, Sarah was held captive as a state prisoner.

Being the princess of the Egbado clan of the Yoruba people, she had to be presented to an important visitor or sacrificed after the death of a minister or official to become their assistant in the outside world.

In June 1850, when she was about eight years old, Sarah was rescued by Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the Royal Navy while visiting Dahomey as an emissary of the British government.

Forbes asked the King for the baby girl to be given to Queen Victoria as a gift.

“She would be a gift from the King of Blacks to the Queen of Whites”, Forbes said.

The king granted her request and Sarah was brought to England. She was given the names Forbes Bonetta, after the captain and the ship.

Bonetta initially stayed with the Forbes family, before being taken to Windsor Castle on November 9, 1850.

She was received by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Queen handed Sarah over to the Church Missionary Society and paid for her education.

queen victoria

Sarah, a year later, developed a cough believed to be caused by the British climate. The Queen arranged for her to be sent to Sierra Leone for a better climate.

There, Bonetta attended the Freetown Women’s Institution.

But when she was 12, the Queen ordered Sarah back to England, where she was placed in the care of the Scheon family in Chatham.

Sarah became very intelligent and developed a special talent for music.

His academic prowess won the Queen’s admiration as she gave him a social allowance and allowed him regular visits to Windsor Castle.

In 1862 she married James Pinson Labulo Davies, a 31-year-old Yoruba businessman who lived in Britain.

Sarah Forbes Bonetta and her husband

The two returned to West Africa and settled in Lagos, where her husband became a member of the Legislative Council from 1872 to 1874. Sarah also began teaching at a school in Freetown.

She gave birth to a daughter and obtained permission from the Queen to name her Victoria. The queen also became his godmother.

In 1867 Sarah visited the Queen with her daughter and returned to Lagos, where she had two more children.

Following the climate change between Africa and Britain, Sarah’s cough returned.

She died in her forties in 1880 after suffering from tuberculosis and was buried in Funchal, Madeira.

Her daughter, who was equally brilliant, was looked after by the queen and was always allowed to visit the royal household throughout her life.

During her lifetime, Bonetta was described by Captain Forbes as “far ahead of any white child of her age in learning ability, strength of mind, and affection”.

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