Born in West Africa of Yoruba descent, Sarah Forbes Bonetta was captured in 1848, at the age of five, during the Okeadon War. King Gezo of Dahomy captured the city of Okeadon, sacrificing many inhabitants and leading the rest away into slavery. While 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.
In June 1850 Captain Forbes, on board the Bonetta, arrived in Dahomey on a mission to negotiate the suppression of the slave trade. While there, he asked the King for the little girl as a present, whether for himself or on behalf of the Queen is not clear. The request was granted and the child was brought to England, being given the names of Forbes Bonetta, after the Captain and the ship.
She lived at first with Captain Forbes’s family, then, on 9 November, she was taken to Windsor Castle and received by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Queen paid for Sarah to be educated and saw her several times in the space of a few years. Sarah, a highly intelligent girl, developed a particular talent for music. She married in 1862 and later had a daughter, Victoria, to whom the Queen acted as godmother.