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Prince Albert was an early adopter of portrait photography

William Bambridge (1810-79)

Sally [Sarah] Bonetta Forbes (c. 1843-80) 1856

Albumen print | 13.3 x 11.8 cm (image) | RCIN 2906613

Photograph showing a three-quarters length portrait of Sally [Sarah] Bonetta Forbes, facing the viewer, seated and resting her right arm on a cloth-covered table. The portrait was captioned in the 19th century in ink 'Sally Bonetta Forbes' and dated 1856.

Born in West Africa of Yoruba descent, Sarah Forbes Bonetta was captured in 1848, at the age of five, during the Okeadon War, when the King of Dahomey captured the neighbouring city of Okeadon, sacrificing many inhabitants and leading the rest away into slavery. One of the latter was this young girl, who was about five years old. All her relatives had been killed, but as she was of high rank, she 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 Sally 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 Sally Bonetta, after the ship, and Forbes, after the Captain. 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 Sally to be educated and saw her several times in the space of a few years. Sally, 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.

Text abridged from F. Dimond and R. Taylor, Crown & Camera: The Royal Family and Photography 1842-1910, 1987.
  • Creator(s)

    William Bambridge (1810-79) (photographer)

    Sarah Forbes Bonetta (d. 1889)
  • annotation: Sally Bonetta Forbes/1856/by Bambridge [beneath photograph]
  • 13.3 x 11.8 cm (image)

    28.2 x 22.9 cm (page dimensions)

  • Sally [SArah] Bonetta Forbes, 1856 [Photographic Portraits. Vol 1/59 (1853-1857)]

  • Acquired by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

  • Object type(s)
      • visual works
        • photographs
        • albums
          • photograph albums