A portrait of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, the daughter of an African ruler and goddaughter of Queen Victoria, was unveiled Wednesday as part of an effort to shed light on forgotten Black stories in British history.
Bonetta, originally named Aina, was orphaned and enslaved by King Gezo of Dahomey, present-day Benin, when she was 5 years old, according to a release from English Heritage, a charity that manages more than 400 historical sites in England. In 1850, she was given as a “diplomatic gift” to Capt. Frederick Forbes who brought her to England and introduced her to the queen.
Queen Victoria met with Bonetta, whom she described as “sharp and intelligent” several times over the next few years, including at Osborne, her seaside home on the Isle of Wright. She paid for her education and became her godmother.
Bonetta married James Davies, a merchant from Sierra Leone whose parents were liberated slaves and named her first daughter Victoria, who would also become goddaughter to the queen. The younger Victoria was on a trip to see the Queen at Osborne when Bonetta died in 1880 of tuberculosis.
It was at Osborne where the painting of Bonetta, created by artist Hannah Uzor, was unveiled Wednesday. The portrait is based on a photograph of Bonetta in her wedding dress, which is housed in the National Portrait Gallery in London.