Sarah Forbes Bonetta- The Great Yoruba Slave

Sarah Forbes Bonetta was originally born ‘Aina’ in 1843 to Egbado
parents of the Yoruba ethnic group. Her father was the high chief
of Oke-Odan, an Egbado village in western Nigeria, till he was killed
in 1848 when King Gezo of Dahomey, one of the notorious slave
raiders in the 19th century, raided his village. Sarah’s parents and
siblings whose names are unknown were killed in the raid which
turned Sarah, an Egbado princess, into a slave. Many of the
villagers captured during the raid were made slaves and sacrificed
to the gods of Dahomey but fortunately for Sarah, she was saved
by the quick intervention of Captain Frederick E. Forbes, a British
naval officer who was on a visit to Dahomey kingdom to persuade
King Gezo to abolish slave trade. Captain Frederick E. Forbes
persuaded King Gezo to present Sarah (then Aina) as a gift to
Queen Victoria, he said: “She would be a present from the King of
the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites.” King Gezo agreed and thus
Sarah’s life was spared and subsequently she was named Sarah,
Forbes, the captain’s surname and Bonetta which was the name of
his ship (HMS Bonetta).
On the 9th of November, 1850, Captain Frederick Forbes took
Sarah to Great Britain to meet Queen Victoria at Windsor castle.
The Queen admired Sarah’s intelligence and ability to learn quickly.
Even Captain Frederick wrote: “She is a perfect genius; she now
speaks English well, and has great talent for music… She is far in
advance of any white child of her age in aptness of learning, and
strength of mind and affection…” Shortly after, Captain Frederick
Forbes died and so Sarah was sent to the Schoen family in Palm
Cottage, Gillingham. Queen Victoria adopted Sarah as her
goddaughter and sponsored her education. Being the Queen’s
goddaughter, Sarah had unlimited access to Windsor castle like
other members of the royal family. Shortly after Sarah began to
live with the Schoen family, she developed a health problem due to
the damp weather of Britain. Queen Victoria arranged for her
migration to Sierra Leone to continue her education at the Female
Institution, a CMS school in Freetown where she excelled in music
and her academics. In 1855, Sarah returned to Great Britain.
In January 1862, Sarah Forbes Bonetta, now 19 years old,
attended the wedding of the Queen’s eldest child, Princess Royal
Victoria, as a guest. Seven months later, she was offered a
marriage to Captain James Labulo Davies, a 31-year-old wealthy
Yoruba businessman who lives in Britain. Sarah was reluctant to
accept the offer due to reasons known to her but she eventually
accepted after much persuasion. The wedding took place in
August 1862 at the St. Nicholas Church in Brighton, England. It
was such an extravagant one; dignitaries from different parts of
the world were in attendance.
The new couple moved back to Africa and settled in the town of
Badagary in Lagos, Nigeria. Shortly after her marriage, Sarah
Forbes Davies had her first daughter and requested for permission
from Queen Victoria to name her Victoria. The Queen granted the
permission and also adopted baby Victoria as her goddaughter. In
1867, Sarah and her daughter visited the Queen then returned to
Lagos where she had two more children named Arthur and Stella.
Sarah was diagonised with tuberculosis and later died on August
15, 1880 at the age of 37. She was buried in Funchal, Madiera
Island, Portugal. It was such a sad moment for her family. Queen
Victoria wrote in her diary, “Saw poor Victoria Davies, my black
godchild, who learnt this morning of the death of her dear mother”.
Queen Victoria took good care of Sarah’s children and maintained
close contact with them. Till today, the decendants of James
Labulo Davies and Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies lived in England,
Sierra Leone and Lagos, Nigeria.

1 Comment

  1. Thank u for this history

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