Portrait Of Queen Victoria's African Goddaughter Centers Forgotten History


In an effort to shed light on the country's often forgotten history, a portrait of Queen Victoria's African goddaughter, Sarah Forbes Bonetta, was unveiled on Wednesday. Sitting in Queen Victoria's former Osborne residence, the portrait depicts Bonetta standing behind what appears to be a chair as she wears a creme dress with a turquoise background.

"Through my art, I’m interested in exploring those forgotten black people in British history, people such as Sarah. What I find interesting about Sarah is that she challenges our assumptions about the status of black women in Victorian Britain. I was also drawn to her because of the parallels with my own family and my children, who share Sarah's Nigerian heritage," artist Hannah Uzor said.

Sarah Forbes Bonetta was originally born Aina Forbes Bonetta. She was the daughter of an African ruler, but was enslaved at the age of five. In 1850, she was forced in to the hands of Captain Frederick Forbes as a "diplomatic gift." Forbes brought her to England and introducer her to Queen Victoria who described Bonetta as "sharp and intelligent." Over the next tow years, Bonetta and Queen Victoria became close, so she offered to pay for her education.

In 1862, she married James Davies, the son of two liberated people, in Brighton. The couple would have a daughter who they named after Queen Victoria. Like her mother, the younger Victoria would become the goddaughter of the Queen as well. After eighteen years of marriage, Bonetta died of tuberculosis in Maderia. At the time of her mother's death, Victoria was traveling to the Queen's home in Osborne where the portrait now resides.

"To see Sarah return to Osborne, her godmother’s home, is very satisfying and I hope my portrait will mean more people discover her story," Uzor said.

Portraits of historical Black figures in English history will not stop with Bonetta. In the Spring, English Heritage plans to unveil more portraits of historical figures.

Photo: Getty Images