Sara Forbes Bonetta

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Sara Forbes Bonetta Davies
Sara Forbes Bonetta (15 September 1862) (cropped).jpg
Sara Forbes Bonetta photographed by Camille Silvy in 1862
Oke Odan, Ogun State
Died15 August 1880 (aged 36–37)
Cause of deathTuberculosis
Resting placeFunchal, Madeira Island, Portugal
Other namesAina
Home townAbeokuta
  • Victoria Davies (daughter)
  • Arthur Davies (son)
  • Stella Davies (daughter)
RelativesJohn K. Randle (son-in-law)

Sara Forbes Bonetta, otherwise spelled Sarah (1843 – 15 August 1880),[1] was a West African Egbado princess of the Yoruba people who was orphaned in intertribal warfare, sold into slavery and, in a remarkable twist of events, was liberated from enslavement and became a goddaughter to Queen Victoria. She was married to Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies, a wealthy Victorian Lagos philanthropist.

Early life[edit]

Sara Forbes Bonetta by Camille Silvy

Originally styled Omoba Aina, she was born in 1843 at Oke-Odan, an Egbado village.[2] In 1848, Oke-Odan was raided by a Dahomeyan army; Aina's parents died during the attack and she ended up in the court of King Ghezo as a slave at the age of five. Intended by her captors to become a human sacrifice, she was rescued by Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the Royal Navy, who convinced King Ghezo of Dahomey to give her to Queen Victoria;[3]

Forbes renamed her Sara Forbes Bonetta, Bonetta after his ship HMS Bonetta. In 1850, she met the queen, who was impressed by the young princess's exceptional intelligence, and had the girl, whom she called Sally,[4] raised as her goddaughter in the British middle class.[4][5][6] In 1851, Sara developed a chronic cough, which was attributed to the climate of Great Britain. Her guardians sent her to school in Africa in May of that year, when she was aged eight,[4] and she returned to England in 1855, when she was 12. In January 1862, she was invited to and attended the wedding of Queen Victoria's daughter Princess Alice.[7]

Marriage and children[edit]

A portrait of James Pinson Labulo Davies and Sara Forbes Bonetta, photographed in London in 1862 by Camille Silvy

She was later given permission by the Queen to marry Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies at St Nicholas' Church in Brighton, East Sussex, in August 1862, after a period that was to be spent in the town in preparation for the wedding. During her subsequent time in Brighton, she lived at 17 Clifton Hill in the Montpelier area.[8]

Captain Davies was a Yoruba businessman of considerable wealth, and after their wedding the couple moved back to their native Africa, where they had three children: Victoria Davies (1863), Arthur Davies (1871), and Stella Davies (1873).[9] Sara Forbes Bonetta continued to enjoy a close relationship with Queen Victoria to the point such that she and Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther were the only Lagos indigènes the Royal Navy had standing orders to evacuate in the event of an uprising in Lagos.[9] Victoria Matilda Davies was also a goddaughter of Queen Victoria.[10] She married the successful Lagos doctor John K. Randle.[11] Many of Sara's descendants now live in either England or Sierra Leone, while a separate branch, the aristocratic Randle family of Lagos, remains prominent in contemporary Nigeria.[10][12][13]

Death and legacy[edit]

The English Cemetery in Funchal, Madeira

Sara Forbes Bonetta died of tuberculosis on 15 August 1880[1] in the city of Funchal, the capital of Madeira Island, a Portuguese island in the Atlantic ocean.

Her husband, Captain Davies, erected a granite obelisk-shaped monument more than eight feet high in memory of Sara Forbes Bonetta at Ijon in Western Lagos, where he had started a cocoa farm.[14][15] The inscription on the obelisk reads:




Sara's grave is number 206 in the British Cemetery of Funchal near the Anglican Holy Trinity Church, Rua Quebra Costas Funchal, Madeira. There is currently no headstone.[16]

Sara was portrayed by Zaris-Angel Hator in the 2017 TV series Victoria.[17]


  1. ^ a b c Elebute, Adeyemo (2013). The Life of James Pinson Labulo Davies: A Colossus of Victorian Lagos. Kachifo Limited/Prestige. p. 138. ISBN 9789785205763.
  2. ^ Elebute (2013), pp. 41–42
  3. ^ "Hidden histories: the first black people photographed in Britain – in pictures: Ethiopian princes in exile, boxing champs and 'Friendly Zulus' ... these previously unseen images of black people in the Victorian times show colonialism in all its contradictions: The black Victorians: astonishing portraits unseen for 120 years". The Guardian. 15 September 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Rappaport, Helen (2003). Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion. ABC-CLIO Biographical Companions. p. 307. ISBN 9781851093557.
  5. ^ Wasson, Ellis (2009). A History of Modern Britain: 1714 to the Present. John Wiley & Sons. p. 235. ISBN 9781405139359.
  6. ^ Marsh, Jan (19 November 2009). Black Victorians: Black People in British Art 1800–1900. Lund Humphries, University of Michigan. pp. 62, 86. ISBN 9780853319306.
  7. ^ Higgen, Annie C. (1879). "Queen Victoria's African Protégée". Church Missionary Quarterly Token. Church Missionary Society. p. 6 – via Google Books. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  8. ^ Collis, Rose (2010). The New Encyclopaedia of Brighton: (based on the original by Tim Carder) (1st ed.). Brighton: Brighton & Hove Libraries. ISBN 978-0-9564664-0-2.
  9. ^ a b Elebute, Adeyemo. The Life of James Pinson Labulo Davies: A Colossus of Victorian Lagos. Kachifo Limited/Prestige. pp. 77–79. ISBN 9789785205763.
  10. ^ a b Braimah, Ayodale. "Bonetta, Sarah Forbes (1843–1880)". BlackPast. Retrieved 14 August 2014.
  11. ^ Adeloye, Adelola (1974). "Some early Nigerian doctors and their contribution to modern medicine in West Africa". Medical History. 18 (3): 286. doi:10.1017/s0025727300019621. PMC 1081580. PMID 4618303. Retrieved 23 May 2015.
  12. ^ "The Nineteenth Century: 1862 - Sarah Forbes Bonetta - The African Princess in Brighton". Brighton and Hove Black History. Brighton and Hove Black History Project. Archived from the original on 8 May 2003.
  13. ^ "Sarah Forbes Bonetta (Sarah Davies) (1843-1880), Goddaughter of Queen Victoria:Image archive". London: National Portrait Gallery.
  14. ^ Elebute, Adeyemo. The Life of James Pinson Labulo Davies: A Colossus of Victorian Lagos. Kachifo Limited/Prestige. pp. 111–119. ISBN 9789785205763.
  15. ^ Elebute (2013), pp. 111–119
  16. ^ Register of Burials, Church Archives, Holy Trinity Church, Funchal
  17. ^ Victoria's Daisy Goodwin: "I'm trying to challenge people's perspectives of the Victorian period"

Further reading[edit]

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