History that is taught is school can come across boring and tailored so that we only learn certain parts of history. That’s good to know about the English history, but many times people have been excluded – whether or not is it on purpose I’m not sure, but it is something to ponder on. Does the name Sarah Bonetta Forbes ring any bells? Probably … Probably not. Surely we’ve done Victorian history or studied some literature while in education. This name is never mentioned despite the fact that Forbes’ was adopted by Queen Victoria herself.
I stumbled across Sarah Forbes Bonetta some years ago while researching the Victorian era. There was, in fact, a book in the library called Black Victorians and in it the first chapter was along the lines of Queen Victoria’s “black daughter.” And here’s her story.
The girl was captured by rival Dahomans when she was a young. Her parents had been killed and she was to be taken to Dahomey as part of a ritual sacrifice. At the time, British naval officer and commander of HMS Bonetta, Frederick Forbes, was on a mission during the autumn in 1849 in attempt to negotiate some closure on the slave trade among the Dahomans. Forbes was the child’s advocate. After coming to an agreement, he demanded that the girl as a gift for Queen Victoria. When Forbes received the girl, she was baptised as Sarah Forbes (after his middle name) Bonetta (the vessel they travelled on). He returned to England with the girl and she was presented to the Queen. Sarah was raised up under the Queen’s safety.
When she was in England, she was given to the Church Missionary Society where she was educated. In 1851 she returned to Africa as she suffered from fragile health where she stayed in Sierra Leone. She returned to England when she was 12 years old. Queen Victoria was impressed with Sarah’s mannerisms, academic abilities, as well as her gift for literature, art and music.
James Pinson Labulo Davies, a 31 year old Yoruba a wealthy businessman in Britain proposed to Sarah when she was 18 years old. After initially refusing his proposal, Sarah was sent to live in filthy conditions in Brighton with two senior ladies in order to convince her to accept the proposal. Queen Victoria approved of the marriage and Sarah wed in August 1862. The newlyweds returned to West Africa settling in Lagos. The couple had a daughter who was named Victoria (used with the queen’s permission) and the Queen also became her Godmother. Sarah went back to England with her daughter in 1867 visiting the Queen. When she returned to Lagos she had two more children.
Sarah had a lasting cough due to the climate changes as she moved between Africa and Britain. Suffering from tuberculosis, Sarah went to convalesce in Maderia in 1880, where she died and was buried there. She was aged around 40 years old. Her daughter, Victoria, was visited the royal household regularly as she was given annuity by the Queen.
I’ve mentioned Sarah Forbes Bonetta this month because her presence in the royal household reminds us that black people didn’t just disappear out of history. After the abolition of slaves, blacks aren’t mentioned in mainstream history until 1948 – where did all those people go? Not all black people were slaves and there were wealthy establishments outside Britain, like Lagos for example.
Her story resembles on we’d read in fiction…Only she actually existed.
Further details : HERE