156 Years Ago: A Nigerian Lady was the First Black to Enjoy British Royal Wedding

156 Years Ago: A Nigerian Lady was the First Black to Enjoy British Royal Wedding

Monday, May 21, 2018 9:34 am

    James Pinson Labulo Davies and Sarah (Aina) Forbes Bonetta

By Ademola Adegbamigbe

Her name was Aina (renamed Sarah Forbes Bonetta), adopted daughter of Queen Victoria of England. Her wedding was held at St. Nicholas Church, Brighton on 14 August 1862, predating when Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, walked down the aisle by 156 years! Meghan (her mother is African American) and Harry got married on 19 May 2018 in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in the United Kingdom.

Mergan Merkles, right and Harry

Queen Victoria had earlier arranged the marriages of all her six biological children, she gave Aina to Captain Labulo Davies, another Nigerian of slave descent. Davies, a rich sailor and ship owner, was the one who introduced cocoa to Nigeria and funded the CMS Grammar School in Lagos, founded by Babington Macaulay, Ajayi Crowther’s son-in-law.

Queen Victoria adopted Aina, trained her and funded her wedding

This is contained in the review written by Damola Awoyokun (a UK based civil engineer) of a book, The life of Captain Labulo Davies, authored by Adeyemo Elebute, a professor of surgery for 45 years and a foundation staff member of Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).

Below is the story of Captain Davies and Sarah (Aina) Forbes Bonetta, according to the review by Awoyokun:

‘Queen Victoria married her to a Nigerian, The life of Captain Labulo Davies was too compelling, too needed and too unknown that Adeyemo Elebute, a professor of surgery for 45 years and a foundation staff member of Lagos University College Hospital (LUTH), turned himself into a professional historian at 82 years of age. He travelled far and wide, burrowed into many Nigerian and British archives in order to lock down Davies’ story in this splendid book. Davies was born on 14 August 1828 to former Yoruba slaves whom the British had rescued and resettled in Freetown. His father was from Abeokuta and his mother from Ogbomoso. His parents refused to accept that Africans should be left to their traditions and ways of life after what they had done to them. Their son joined the Royal Navy as a sea cadet in 1849 and later, when he retired began his own shipping line. Being trustworthy, he became a point of contact for many European trading companies in West Africa. He grew rich…

When the Kingdom of Dahomey broke away from a weakened Oyo Empire, it rose rapidly to become an important military power capturing towns and villages from the grip of Oyo Alaafin. To get slaves, you need war. Port Novo, Whydah, Ouidah, Popo that used to be some of Oyo’s contact with Euro-Brazilian ship owners became important slave trading ports for Dahomey. With the British government becoming proactive with its anti-slavery campaign, Commander Forbes was sent in 1849 to 1850 to meet and persuade the King of Dahomey to switch to trade in cotton, palm kernel and other agriculture items as a key source of income instead of trade in slaves. At the meeting, some slaves had been earmarked to be beheaded for religious ritual.

One of them was Aina, then a seven-year-old girl who had already witnessed the killing of her parents when Gezo’s army invaded their Egbado village of Oke Odan in 1848 and took her as a slave. Commander Forbes used everything to persuade Gezo to release the little girl to him. Gezo refused. The game changed when Forbes said: “She would be a present from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites.” But it was not true that Queen Victoria was the queen of the whites and Gezo definitely knew he was not king of the blacks. There were his immediate superiors: Alaafin Abiodun Atiba in Oyo and Oba Osemwende and Adolo in Benin. But being a megalomaniac, by equating him with Queen Victoria, Forbes ballooned his estimate. And Gezo saw that being the Queen’s coequal, he would earn more respect and command more power from Alaafin and Oba of Benin. He released Aina.

When Aina eventually arrived at Windsor Castle on 9 November 1850, the Queen, who never knew Commander Forbes nor asked him to bring back a black girl, adopted Aina and sent her for royal training. The girl not only impressed the Queen with her charm, intelligence and willingness to blend, she impressed the whole of Britain. She spoke English with a royal accent unlike millions of other Britons. Several photographers, illustrators and artists came to document her. Even foreign dignitaries who came to visit the Palace saw Princess Aina with the royal family and wrote about her. Her presence was sufficient to confound and debunk the pernicious racist theory then that blacks were of least intelligence. The phrenologist even came to measure her skull. With the royal family having a black Princess with her own waiting ladies, it was difficult to regard blacks as monkeys in respectable circles in Britain.

During the meeting with Ajayi Crowther at the Windsor Castle, the Queen asked whether Aina’s gifts were due to her noble blood. Crowther answered that she wasn’t a descendant of one of those mighty kings of West African empires or kingdoms but her parents were chiefs of a small town. Since the Queen arranged the marriages of all her six children, she arranged Aina’s marriage too to Captain Davies, supremely confident she was in good hands. The wedding was held at St. Nicholas Church, Brighton on 14 August 1862. The Queen paid for the elaborate ceremony which was the talk of the country. And when both settled in Lagos, they continued the course of civilisation, opening schools, educating the people and discouraging slavery. They were the reason why there was no major uproar against British presence in Nigeria unlike in other countries like Ghana, Kenya and India. They earned the trust of fellow Africans and the colonial governments across West Africa respected them.’

Read the full book review here:

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