*A new portrait of Queen Victoria’s black goddaughter, Sarah Forbes Bonetta, is now on view at Osborne, the seaside home created by the Queen and Prince Albert.
Per a statement, the painting—created by artist Hannah Uzor—is based on a photograph currently housed at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It’s one of a series of works commissioned by English Heritage to spotlight historical black figures whose stories have previously been overlooked.
“What I find interesting about Sarah is that she challenges our assumptions about the status of black women in Victorian Britain,” says Uzor, whose family and children share Bonetta’s Nigerian heritage, in the statement. “ … 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.”
Bonetta was born into a prominent Yoruba family in 1843. When she was 5 years old, a rival king, Gezo of Dahomey (located in what is now Benin), defeated her tribe. Historians say Gezo killed the young girl’s parents and enslaved her, forcing her to fulfill “whatever role was required of her” at the Dahomey court. Bonetta ended up in England as the result of a failed diplomatic mission. In 1850, British Captain Frederick Forbes tried—and failed—to convince Gezo to abandon his role in the slave trade. The king gifted Bonetta to the captain as an act of conciliation; Forbes, in turn, brought the orphaned child back to his home country, renaming her after himself and the ship on which they’d arrived.
Watch a report about Sarah’s story and the painting below: