Happy Black History Month! For each of the 28 days of February, we at The Mary Sue will have a post about a black woman you should know about—some you may have heard of, some a little bit more obscure, and some fictional who still deserve a lot of love.
Day Twelve: Sarah* Forbes Bonetta
A short one today this Monday, but one I found out about and had to share.
Intended to be a human sacrifice, young Aina was an orphaned member of the Yoruba royalty after the tribal fighting between the Egbado and the Kingdom of Dahomey. She was rescued by Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the Royal Navy, who convinced King Ghezo of Dahomey to give her to Queen Victoria: “She would be a present from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites.”
While that was a gross piece of reverse psychology imperialism, it worked. Aina was saved and her name was changed to Sara Forbes Bonetta. Forbes renamed after his ship HMS Bonetta. Victoria was impressed by the young princess’s exceptional intelligence, and had Sarah raised as her goddaughter in the British middle class.
In 1851 Sarah developed a chronic cough, because of the climate issues in Great Britain and was sent to school in Africa in May of that year, when she was eight years old. She returned to England in 1855, when she was 12, and in January 1862 she was invited to and attended the wedding of Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Alice.
Sarah lived the life of an upper-class woman for the remainder of her life in England. She was later given permission by the Queen to marry Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies in August 1862, after a period that was to be spent in the town in preparation for the wedding.
Captain Davies was a Yoruba businessman of great wealth and the couple moved back to Africa after their wedding where they had three children: Victoria Davies (1863), Arthur Davies (1871), and Stella (1873).
Sarah Bonetta continued to have a close relationship with Queen Victoria. Victoria Matilda Davies was also a goddaughter of Queen Victoria. Many of her descendants now live in either England or Sierra Leone, while a separate branch, the aristocratic Randle family of Lagos, remains prominent in contemporary Nigeria.
Sarah Forbes Bonetta died of tuberculosis on 15 August 1880.
Not bad for a girl who was going to be sentenced to death at five. Just a reminder that there were enough black people around in the Victorian era that Sarah could not only marry another black man, but a wealthy one as well. So remember that when you are casting your period dramas.
At Her Majesty’s Request: An African Princess in Victorian England by Walter Dean Myers
*It is sometimes spelled Sarah and other times Sara. I kept the H.
(image: Public Domain)
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