In history, she is only known as Sarah Forbes Bonetta, but this was not the birth name given to the girl who was sold into slavery at the age of 4, and in a remarkable twist of events, became a goddaughter to the Queen of England. This beautiful young black woman, dressed in full Victorian costume, offers an alternative glimpse into our whitewashed narrative of history…
Her parents were tribal royalty of the Egbado clan, but they were killed in a brutal raid on her village; victims of the notorious slave trading monarch King Gezo of Dahomey. Sarah was captured and facing certain death at the King’s Court when her fate suddenly changed with the arrival of a British captain in the Royal Navy. He had been sent on behalf of Queen Victoria to convince King Gezo against the enslavement his own people. Negotiations were hollow, although Gezo did offer a gift “from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites”– and that was Sarah. Captain. The “gift” was accepted and Frederick E. Forbes was tasked with the delivery of Sarah to the Queen. Forbes gave the child his own surname and added the “Bonetta” after his ship, the HMS Bonetta.
By the time she reached Britain, the girl who had been orphaned, enslaved, stripped of her identity and stolen from her country by the age of eight, had already learned to speak English on the voyage over, showing great intellectual promise despite the injustices she had suffered. On her introduction to the Queen, the young tribal princess immediately won over the affections of Victoria with her natural, regal manner. Sarah continued to learn English at rapid speed and often far outshone her British peers throughout her academic studies. After noticing her talent and passion for learning, not only did Queen Victoria personally pay for Sarah to receive a higher quality education, but the monarch also made the former slave girl her own goddaughter.
Under the guardian of Captain Forbes, he wrote of his adopted African princess:
She is a perfect genius; she now speaks English well, and has a 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.