Sarah Forbes Bonetta


Black Cultural Archives

Black Cultural Archives

In 1850 Captain Frederick Forbes visited King Ghezo of Dahomey as a representative of Queen Victoria, on a mission to discourage the slave trade. At the meeting he was given an unexpected gift: a captive girl.

He named her Sarah Forbes Bonetta. Forbes after Captain Forbes, and Bonetta after his ship the HMS Bonetta. This image is from his memoir.

Sarah would go on to lead a remarkable life. When she arrived in England, at just six years old, she was presented to Queen Victoria, who agreed to become Sarah’s protector. She described Sarah in her journal as "sharp and intelligent and speaking English", noting that she’s dressed as any other girl, but when her bonnet was taken off, that her little black head and big earrings “gave away her negro type.”

The Queen paid for Sarah’s education, and even became the Godmother of her first child, named Victoria.

This photo was taken for Black and British: A Forgotten History, a BBC series revealing the extraordinary long relationship between the British Isles and people whose origins are in Africa.

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