When Arnold Awoonor-Gordon first heard stories from his great-grandmother Emilie of how his great-great-grandmother had been the adopted daughter of Queen Victoria he ‘thought they were the ramblings of an old lady’.
But when he moved to his terraced house in Chatham, Kent from Sierra Leone around 25 years ago he set about finding the truth, contacting the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle as a starting point.
To his amazement, he found out that his relative Sarah Forbes Bonetta had become the tenth child of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg after she was saved from slavers in Africa in 1850.
‘I got the necessary security clearance and went off to Windsor Castle to see all the photographs and letters myself’, Mr Awoonor-Gordon, 85, told the Daily Express. ‘[My great-grandmother] was very proud of the royal connection and so are we, her relatives.’
Sarah Forbes Bonetta (left and right) had become the tenth child of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg after she was saved from slavers in Africa in 1850. Queen Victoria later went on to arrange a marriage for her to wealthy businessman Captain James Davies (left)
Her story was brought to life in the ITV television series Victoria, starring Jenna Coleman as Victoria and Zaris-Angel Hator as Princess Sarah. In the series, Princess Sarah is seen amazed by the snow in Britain
Arnold Awoonor-Gordon discovered the truth about his great-great grandmother Sarah Forbes Bonetta after moving to Chatham, Kent from Sierra Leone around 25 years ago
Born Omoba Aina – meaning princess – in 1843 in Nigeria, Princess Sarah was just five when she was captured by the merciless King of Dahomey in 1848. Her family were killed in the war, as the daughter of an African chief.
Sarah was kept in captivity as a state prisoner, either to be presented to an important visitor, or to be sacrificed at the death of a minister or official to become his attendant in the next world.
But before she too could be killed, British naval officer Frederick Forbes rescued her while on a mission to end slavery among the Dahomans.
He managed to convince Princess Sarah’s captors to present the child as a ‘gift’ to Queen Victoria and sailed back to England with her on his ship HMS Bonetta, which became her adopted name.
Whatever difficulties the young princess had, the queen (pictured) remained an important influence in her life, even pressuring her into marrying wealthy businessman Captain James Davies in 1862
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with five of their children in a painting by Frederick Winterhalter. Princess Sarah became their tenth child after she was adopted by the Royal Family
The Queen was so enamored with the child, that she adopted her as her daughter and also made her a goddaughter. She was now safe, and went on to become quite an intellect, with a particular aptitude for music.
But she suffered with the change in climate, and so was sent to be schooled in Sierra Leone. But as befits a royal princess, she did not share a dormitory with the other girls and was given a room of her own.
Princess Sarah returned to England in 1855, where she joined her royal siblings in the palace. ‘Victoria didn’t have prejudices at all and I think she saw people as her subjects, and didn’t discriminate between them,’ Mr Awoonor-Gordon continued. ‘It’s quite unexpected, but it’s true. She was surprisingly broad-minded and modern.’
Her story was brought to life in the ITV television series Victoria, starring Jenna Coleman as Victoria and Zaris-Angel Hator as Princess Sarah. In the series, Princess Sarah is seen amazed by the snow in Britain.
The creator of Victoria, Daisy Goodwin, said the queen did not have any prejudices though acknowledges Sarah did suffer some discomfort in Buckingham Palace (a scene from the show is pictured)
As Princess Sarah suffered with the climate (she is pictured in a scene from ITV’s Victoria during winter in Britain) she was sent to school in Sierra Leone. She returned to Britain in 1855
Mr Awoonor-Gordon has a picture of Princess Sarah’s grave in his home. He said he is ‘very proud’ to have had her in his family
The creator of Victoria, Daisy Goodwin, said the queen did not have any prejudices though acknowledges Sarah did suffer some discomfort in Buckingham Palace.
But whatever difficulties the young princess had, the queen remained an important influence in her life, even pressuring her into marrying wealthy businessman Captain James Davies in 1862.
Sarah, then 18, had been unsure of her proposed husband because he was 13 years older. Even after walking down the aisle Sarah continued to visit the queen, and introduced her to her oldest daughter who took the monarch’s name. Victoria senior agreed to be the child’s godmother.
The visits continued even after Sarah returned home to Lagos, Nigeria, and had two more children, Arthur and Stella. But Sarah had been plagued by poor health and Victoria had sent her to school in Sierra Leone because she thought the British climate was making her poorly.
She died of tuberculosis in 1880 at the age of 37 and was buried in Funchal, Madeira. Mr Awoonor-Gordon has a picture of her grave in his home.
He said: ‘Sarah experienced sadness and tragedy but she also had an amazing life – from African slave to royal princess. She was quite some woman and we are very proud to have her in our family.’