New Portrait of Queen Victoria’s African Goddaughter Goes on Display at Osborne
English Heritage commissions portraits of black figures associated with its historic sites to tell previously overlooked stories.
A new painting of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, the daughter of an African ruler who became Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, has been unveiled at Osborne, the Queen’s seaside home on the Isle of Wight.
English Heritage will also be commissioning portraits of other historical black figures associated with the charity’s sites, and whose stories like Bonetta’s have been previously overlooked. The painting of Bonetta, by artist Hannah Uzor, is on display at Osborne throughout October – Black History Month – and will then return on display next spring as part of a wider series of portraits across several sites.
The daughter of a West African ruler, Bonetta (originally named Aina) was orphaned and sold into slavery at the age of five. In 1850 she was presented as a ‘diplomatic gift’ to Captain Frederick Forbes of the H.M.S. Bonetta and brought to England. Soon after arriving in England, Forbes introduced her to Queen Victoria who described the seven-year-old as “sharp and intelligent”.
The Queen met Bonetta several times over the next two years, including at Osborne, and was so taken with the young child that she paid for her education and became her godmother. In 1862 Bonetta married a Sierra Leone-born merchant, James Davies, whose own parents were liberated slaves, in Brighton.
Bonetta went on to name her first daughter after Queen Victoria, who also became the child’s godmother. The younger Victoria was travelling to Osborne in 1880 when she heard of her mother’s death in Madeira from tuberculosis and sought comfort from the Queen.
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