Adopted African princess impresses British queen


DURING the time of slavery, colonialism and racism, a young African princess was adopted by Queen Victoria.
This was at the height of the British Empire. Her name was Lady Sarah Bonetta Davies, an Egbado Omooba African Yoruba princess born into a royal West African dynasty.
At birth, her real name was Ina and Sarah was the name given to her by the British.
How did it happen that an African princess was taken to London where she maintained her royalty and lived close to Queen Victoria?
In 1848, Princess Sarah’s father’s castle was raided by the soldiers belonging to the King of Dahomey. Sarah was eight. Both her royal family were massacred by the slave traders. Sarah survived.
The story, as recorded by British writers and historians noted that Sarah was rescued by Captain Frederick Forbes of the Royal Navy who happened to be in the kingdom of Dahomey on a separate British government mission to end slavery.
During that time, the British controlled much of Africa before the partition of African in 1881.
Captain Frederick Forbes, the British naval officer, was the commander of HMS Bonetta when the massacre happened.
He asked King Gezo for the Princess, saying he wanted to take her to England as a gift for the Queen.
For Captain Forbes, the little girl would make an excellent present for the Queen of England.
He therefore approached King Ghezo of Dahomey saying: “She would be a present from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites.”
Based on the discussion between the King and the Captain, the little African princess was handed over to Captain Forbes. She was then named Sarah Bonetta after the name of Captain Frederick’s ship.
Captain Forbes sailed to England with little Sarah. Upon arriving in England, Sarah was handed over to Queen Victoria.
Captain Forbes wrote an account of his visit to West Africa and how he took Sarah from her home in Africa to London.
His use of language, racist in its undertones, was not surprising given the time in which Africa was seen as barbaric and primitive. In his diary, Captain Forbes wrote the following: “Immediately on arriving… her parents were decapitated; her brother and sisters she knows not what their fate might have been… I 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.
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.”
The Queen was immediately impressed by the girl’s natural regal manner and royal demeanour. Sarah also had exceptional intelligence. She was incorporated into the British class system as a lady because she was of royal African blood by birth.
She was seen as belonging to Queen Victoria’s family. The Queen said the child was going to get good education through the services of the Church Missionary Society.
But Sarah’s health was always a problem as she could not get used to the English weather.
Without family or any other relatives, Sarah was moved from place to place and the Queen took a close interest in her as her adopted child and gave her an allowance for her welfare with Sarah becoming a regular visitor to Windsor Castle.
Sarah’s genius was admired throughout the royal court and she continued to outshine her tutors with her advanced abilities in all studies spending her life between the royal household and Sierra Leone where she was educated.
Due to ill health, Sarah was returned to West Africa in 1851 and attended school at the Female Institution in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
At the age of 12, the Queen wanted her back in England where she was placed under the care of Mr and Mrs Schon at Chatham.
One historian noted that: “Queen Victoria was so impressed by the girl’s natural regal manner and her gift for academic studies, literature, art and music that she gave her an allowance for her welfare and Sarah became a regular visitor to Windsor Castle.
“Sarah’s genius was admired throughout the royal court and she continued to outshine her tutors with her advanced abilities in all studies.”
When Sarah was 18 years of age, she attracted the attention of James Pinson Labulo Davies, a 31-year-old Nigerian man from the Yoruba clan.
Davies came from a wealthy family and he lived in England. Sarah was initially not interested in Davies.
As was the custom in Victorian England, a young girl needed persuasion, often from older relatives or family friends.
Sarah was therefore sent to live with two old ladies in Brighton in a place that was very lonely and desolate for a young African girl. The role of the two spinsters was to persuade Sarah to marry James Davies.
Queen Victoria approved of Davies as a suitable husband for Sarah. In August 1862 Sarah married James Pinson Labulo Davies at St Nicholas Church in Brighton.
The wedding party arrived from West Hill Lodge and was described as follows: “There were 10 carriages and pairs of grays, made up of white ladies with African gentlemen, and African ladies with white gentlemen. There were 16 bridesmaids.”
Soon after the wedding Sarah and her husband went back to West Africa.
The church records show that Sarah was baptised in the town of Badagry, formerly a slave port.
At that time Lagos Colony was part of the Gold Coast which is present day Ghana.
The couple found a home and settled in Lagos. Davies became a member of the Legislative Council from 1872 to 74.
Shortly after her marriage, Sarah gave birth to a daughter and was granted permission by the Queen to name the child Victoria.
Sarah visited the Queen in 1867 with her daughter and then returned to Lagos where she had two more children. Sarah’s ill heath continued to bother her. She had an ongoing cough which was later diagnosed as tuberculosis.
In 1880, Sarah sought better climate and moved to convalesce in Madeira off the coast of West Africa. This is where she sadly died, at the age of 40. She was buried there, at Funchal, Madeira.
After her death, the Queen wrote in her diary: “Saw poor Victoria Davies, my black godchild, who learnt this morning of the death of her dear mother.”
The Queen adopted Sarah’s daughter and kept close interest in her education. Sarah’s daughter maintained close contact with the Queen and was given a royal annuity. She continued to visit the royal household throughout her life.
Although there is a risk of glorifying Sarah’s story, there is no doubt that the story of Lady Sarah Bonetta Davies is unique in the history of Africans in the Diaspora.


  1. It is good to read of accounts. As a balck American I learned that white people came to Africa and captured slaves. I know now it was my African cousins who captured my ancestors and sold them to the whites as slaves. It is my hope that more black Americans would know the truth and stop hating white people here in the U.S. I consider myself blessed to be able to be a citizen of the USA.


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