Black History Month

Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880)


The Society of Genealogists’ Library holds copies of the burial registers of Funchal, Madeira. When looking at these entries we can see that in 1888, the burial took place of a goddaughter of Queen Victoria, described in a memorial in Nigeria as Princess Sarah Forbes Bonetta.

Bonetta was born in 1843 in the village of Oke-Odan, West Africa (now Nigeria) to the Egbado clan of the Yoruba people, and given the name Omoba Aina. In 1848, aged just 5 years old, Aina was captured during the Okeadon War. Her family was killed in the war, but as the daughter of a Chief, she was taken as a state prisoner.

Two years later, Captain Frederick E. Forbes R. N. arrived in Dahomey aboard the Bonetta to negotiate the suppression of the slave trade. What happened next was reported in the Stonehaven Journal of 5 November 1850, page 8:

Sarah Forbes Bonetta photographed by Camille Silvy in 1862

THE BLACK PRINCESS. - - A paragraph has

gone the round of the papers stating that Cap-

tain Frederick E. Forbes, of the Bonetta, had

brought with him to England a juvenile African

Princess, who was presented to him by one of

the native kings, and that her Majesty Queen

Victoria having been informed of the circum-

stances, had been pleased to direct Captain For-

bes to bring the Princess to London, and had

graciously signified her intention of taking

charge of the child. The paragraph is substan-

tially correct. This interesting, if not “illus-

trious stranger,” is now sojourning at Wingfield

Place, Windsor, and has several times accom-

panied Captain Forbes’s family in their drives

 to Windsor. In the course of a few days, we

understand, the child will be taken to Osborne,

by command of her Majesty. 

The Captain renamed Omoba Aina as Sarah Forbes Bonetta, after himself and his ship.

Between 1851 and 1855, Bonetta was educated in Sierra Leone at a school founded by the Church Missionary Society (CMS). She was initially sent to Africa in an attempt to cure her chronic cough, which was attributed to the British climate. When she returned to England in 1855, she lived with a guardian, Reverend Frederick Scheon and his wife in Gillingham, Kent.

Seven years later, the Queen granted permission for Benato to marry Captain James Pinson Labulo, a wealthy Lagos philanthropist.

The couple married in St Nicholas Church Brighton in August 1862. The marriage ceremony was described in detail in the newspapers of the day. Below is the beginning of a long article on the bridge and groom from page 4 of the Essex Standard of 22 August 1862.

After their marriage, the couple settled in Lagos and had three children: Victoria Davies (1863), Arthur Davies (1871), and Stella Davies (1873).

Sarah Forbes Bonetta died of tuberculosis on 15 August 1880 in Madeira. According to her entry on FindAGrave, her burial place in the British Cemetery of Funchal near the Anglican Holy Trinity Church is unmarked. She is remembered with an eight-foot obelisk in Western Lagos, erected by her husband. The inscription reads:





Notes and comments

Please contact Emma Jolly for more information about this article

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