A story I found in this Afro-Europe blog; I was surprised of how little is known/talked about of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a West African Egbado Omoba (Yoruba people of South-West Nigeria) of royal blood, who was orphaned at the age of eight due to a family massacre in her home country.
As the story goes, Royal Navy Captain Frederick E. Forbes convinced King Guezo of Dahomey (known today as Benin in W. Africa), soon after the country’s warfare killings, to allow him to give the young princess to Queen Victoria in England as a gift. Forbes wrote later in his diary that the princess was “a present from the King of the blacks to the Queen of the Whites.”
Upon witnessing the young girl’s regal manner and exceptional intellectual aptitude (it’s said she learned to speak perfect English on the way to Britain), Queen Victoria granted the newly named Sarah Forbes Bonetta regular visits to the Windsor Castle, and sent Sarah, now the Queen’s goddaughter in middle class Britain, to Sierra Leon to be educated in a Church Missionary Society.
In August 1862, Sarah was sanctioned by Queen Victoria to marry a Yoruba businessman of considerable wealth named James Pinson Labulo Davies, at Nicholas Church in Brighton. The extravagant wedding party included ten carriages and pairs of grays and sixteen bridesmaids, with a showcase “of white ladies with African gentlemen, and African ladies with white gentlemen.”
After the wedding, the couple later moved back to their native West Africa. Sarah had a daughter; who she named Victoria with the Queen’s permission. Sadly, Sarah died at the young age of 37 of tuberculosis.
Upon her death, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary “Saw poor Victoria Davies, my black godchild, who learnt this morning of the death of her dear mother.” The Queen was proud of Victoria’s educational excellence and gave her annuity for continued visits to the royal household throughout her life.
In a journal of Frederick E. Forbes, he says this about Sarah:
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.
Very interesting to note the dynamics between the races and the fact that as a child and probably her lifetime, Sarah was still considered “a present,” essentially an object. However, the story proves to be much more complex than that, as there seems to be genuine affection. There’s so much to be explored from stories like this; there must be similarities of this nature, royalty aside, that would apply to American slavery as well. An example of an extraordinary, “peculiar” indeed, and bittersweet part of history.
Take a look at the video below: