Sarah Forbes was a Yoruba girl captured by the King of Dahomey in 1848 during a war in which her parents were killed. She was given as a present to Commander Forbes when he was visited Dahomey as an emissary of the British Government in 1850, and she subsequently took Forbes’ name as well as that of his ship, the ‘Bonetta’. She returned to England with Forbes who presented her to Queen Victoria, who in turn gave her over to the Church Missionary Society to be educated. She attended the Female Institution in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and later returned to England where she was placed under the charge of Mr and Mrs Schon at Chatham.
In 1862 she married, at Brighton, James Pinson Labulo Davies, a merchant of Sierra Leonean origin who later settled in Lagos where he was a member of the Legislative Council from 1872-74 (in which year Lagos Colony was for a time amalgated into the Gold Coast). This photograph was probably taken shortly after their marriage. Sarah Forbes Bonetta died in 1880, aged about 43.
In his journal Captain Forbes gave an account of his mission with relation to Miss Bonetta.
I have only to add a few particulars about my extraordinary present The African child” in a former portion of these journal I have mentioned the Okeadon war; one of the captives of this dreadful slave-hunt was this interesting girl.
It is usual to reserve the best born for the high behest of royalty and the immolation on the tombs of the diseased nobility . For one of these ends she had been detained at court for two years: proving, by her not having been sold to slave dealer, that she was of a good family.
So extraordinary a present would have been at least burden, had I not the conviction that, in consideration of the nature of the service I had performed, the government would consider her as the property of the crown.
To refuse, would have been to have signed her death warrant: which, probably, would have been carried into execution forthwith. Immediately on arriving…
Of her own history she was only a confused idea. Her parents were decapitated; her brother and sisters she knows not what their fate might have been .
For her age supposed to be eight years. She is a perfect genius; she now speaks English well, and have and 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: and with her, been an excellent specimens of the Negro race.
- Sarah Forbes Bonetta
- National Portrait Gallery