Queen Victoria's Black Goddaughter

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

A new painting of Queen Victoria's African goddaughter has gone on display as English Heritage said it would feature portraits of "overlooked" black figures connected with its sites. The painting is on show at the Isle of Wight's Osborne House to coincide with Black History Month.


Sarah Forbes Bonetta was sold into slavery aged five and presented as a "diplomatic gift" to Captain Frederick Forbes in 1850 and brought to England. She then met Queen Victoria through the captain, who paid for her education.


Captain Forbes named her Sarah Forbes Bonetta, partly after his ship, the HMS Bonetta. He had visited the King of Dahomey - in what is now Benin, west Africa - as a representative of Queen Victoria, on a mission to negotiate the suppression of slavery. Britain had abolished slavery in 1833.


Curatorial director of English Heritage Anna Eavis said: "It's an extraordinary story. Britain had abolished the slave trade and was now on a mission to make sure the slave trade was abolished throughout the world. Captain Frederick Forbes, a naval captain, arrived at Dahomey to try and talk the King of Dahomey out of continuing with this trade."


"He wasn't successful but the king presented him with this little girl who was seven years old and an orphan. Forbes took her back and presented her to Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle.

Victoria was so affected by this little girl arriving she wrote about it in her diary and took her under her wing, paid for her education and took an interest in her and her daughter for the rest of their lives."


Ms Bonetta died in Madeira, aged 37, after becoming sick with tuberculosis. Her daughter Victoria received the news while visiting the Queen at Osborne.


From spring 2021, English Heritage will display further portraits of black figures in its collection, whose stories like Ms Bonetta's which had been "previously overlooked". The charity said: "Black history is part of English history and, while we know we have more to do, English Heritage is committed to telling the story of England in full."

Source: BBC