Black Victoriana

I was curious about the subject of black people during the Victorian era.  The Victorian era was from 1837 to 1901.  A Google search revealed some of the most beautiful photographs of people of African descent during the Victorian period.  I am thrilled that these photographs were taken for posterity.  It is nice to see people of color so well dressed and put together for those times.  These photographs are very important because they document an aspect of black history that is generally never spoken of.

 This is a photo of Lady Sarah Bonetta Forbes Davies.  Sara was born in West Africa and subsequently captured during the slave trade.  Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the Royal Navy gave her the name Sara Forbes.  Sara was taken to England and given to Queen Victoria.  The Queen immediately noticed that Sara was exceptionally intelligent, and so she took Sara under her wing.  Queen Victoria raised Sara as her god-daughter within the British middle class.

 When Sara was 20 Queen Victoria sanctioned her marriage to Captain James Davies in August of 1862.  Captain Davies was a Yoruba businessman.   Sara and James had a daughter who whom they christened Victoria and she became the god-daughter of Queen Victoria.

When Sara was brought to England as a young girl she developed a cough caused by the climate change.  Sara was never able to rid herself of this cough and passed away at age 37 of tuberculosis.

Portraits of black Victorian ladies.

 Helen Louise Johnson and Agnes Marion Edwards taken in 1870.
Identified as  Lottie Campbell

Unfortunately, I have not been as successful locating photographs of black Victorian males.  I came across only a few.


I will be searching for this book for purchase. (UPDATE:  I did NOT get these photos from this book)

I hope that you enjoyed these precious photographs.


  1. Kit says:

    What wonderful photos! The image of the woman in the white satin dress, wearing pince nez glasses and white gloves, seated in a dark wicker chair, is the remarkable Charlotte Hawkins Brown. Ms. Brown was the founder of the Alice Freeman Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina, now the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum. She grew up in Cambridge, Mass., and after graduating high school, attended Salem (Mass.) Normal School where she trained to be a teacher. Ms. Brown has a marker on Cambridge’s African American Heritage Trail. Read more at HAWKINS BROWN, which includes a link to the museum.

  2. Jean says:

    I know that you may want photos of elegantly dressed blacks in middle upper class garments.

    May I suggest the achievements of the blacks in North America, the few when slavery had its hold, there were some dignified photos: A local historic figure, who was one of the rare black cowboys in the 19th century in Canadian prairies.

    Here was a community of predominantly freed slaves in Canada:

    May I suggest the black men who were the first black doctor, lawyer, politician in their local region…would have dignified photos of them well-dressed.

  3. UniqueCoaching4You says:

    Important and effective. Want to know more. Truth is although we share in the African displacement, people need to be aware that our Black British History and African American History of enslavement are two different histories. Enslavement of any kind is horrific, however some Black British people need to release the mental hold that they have taken on board regarding African American history and stop wearing it as our own. We had a better start, but our minds remain enslaved by the violent extraction of our people from Africa and the misrepresentation of where we fit in the history of Britain. Thank you for this beautiful information that would be lost if it were not for people like you bringing an awareness.

  4. John T says:

    Wonderful photos, but (and maybe I’m being picky) the sentence “Sara was taken to England and given to Queen Victoria.” makes Sara sound like a slave – which plainly she wasn’t, slavery not having been legally tolerated within the U.K. since, I think, 1763.

  5. Sylvia Van Peebles says:

    I love your blog! This was really interesting and I posted it on my FB Timeline. The Victorian era is a time you don’t associate with those of African decent, especially in England. (I believe her name was Bonetta, not Bonita.)

  6. Robert says:

    I just had to make another comment. African-Americans have contributed so much to this nation; we were the real backbone of the American white family way back when. Cleaning and cooking and caring and raising and protecting generations of white Americans, and after all the hatred, we are still a forgiving people in general. But we won’t forget. And after all of of our kindness, we are still treated with hatred my so many; it’s a shame, isn’t it?

  7. Robert says:

    What a proud heritage we have. One which so many of us don’t even know existed, or have no interest to investigate. The past from which we come, is the way to the future. Now, we need someone to collect African-American photos taken during the Victorian era from all over the nation, and publish them in a memorable coffee table book.

  8. Paul Innocent says:

    I’m a black British actor born in London, England in 1961………..I would give my right arm to play one of these “wonderful” gentlemen on a stage or in a movie – SERIOUSLY – This is why I came into the profession – to advance people’s outlook on black people. Too many screenplays and stage plays of the modern day although they try to emulate positivity amongst the black race don’t always successfully succeed – THIS subject matter DEFINITELY “WOULD!!!!!!!”….

    • Xenia says:

      Hello Paul,

      Thank you for your comment. I would love to see black people portrayed more positively in all forms of media. I remember back in the 1990’s when so many shoot em up in the hood movies came out. I thought they did a disservice to our people on a whole because I do not believe that most black people grow up in that type of environment. That is not to say that those who do should not have a voice. What I am saying is that the whole story needs to be told. I grew up during the 1960’s and 1970’s in a middle class black family. All of my black friends were also middle class. Many of us went to college after high school, and those who did not found jobs and started families. We had style and class too.

      As far as the late 19th century and early 20th century goes, as a people, we had to pave our own way and we did. We started our own Universities and had very respectable careers. Not to mention the many talents that abounded in our communities. The images and stories of us in rags, waiting for the next welfare check and strung out on drugs has been exhausting and misleading.

  9. DeVona says:

    It’s so beautiful to see that we had class and were respected. We need to take back our culture, teach our children that we are somebody, teach them to love and respect themselves, get educated, become and stay productive. That way, other races won’t have us to talk about.

  10. Kyla says:

    This is amazing. We, as a people–a culture, need to get back to this mindset. This level of class and sophistication needs to be the RULE rather than the EXCEPTION.

    • Xenia says:

      Hello Kyla,

      I completely agree with you! I grew up during the 1960’s and 1970’s, and we still displayed class and sophistication then too. Sometime during the 1980’s, as a people, we generally went downhill in how we presented ourselves. Our physical bodies are the Temple of the Most High. We deserve to adorn ourselves better.

    • Sylvia Van Peebles says:

      I so agree with you!!! But we need to see more of this instead of the crap that’s out there. Our children need to grow up admiring THESE kinds of examples instead of ball players, rappers, etc. No longer do we present people of substance to emulate, and that, unfortunately, is our fault.

  11. joe nebula says:

    Im so glad for the internet sometimes. Finding pictures like this which were hidden from view now exposed and rearranging my views of the world. LOVE 🙂

  12. Smash Mash says:

    I enjoyed these photos. I did think it was rather a shame that they had to dress so strictly Victorian and could not wear their hair in traditional African style or use elements of their own culture, but I found them really interesting nonetheless. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Lea says:

    The last photo of the “Victorian Male” is actually a photo of a Jamaican National Hero. His name is PAUL BOGLE title “The Right Excellent Paul Bogle.” He was instrumental in the success of the “Morant Bay Rebellion” in Jamaica that led many liberties being secured for black/ex-slave Jamaicans. His face appears on Jamaican currency.

  14. Mike Harris says:

    London had many prominent minority ethnic people during the Victorian people with 2 Indian MPs representing working class districts of London, and a large number of people from across the Empire in the City.

    • Xenia says:

      You can say that again!

      It wanted to showcase African Americans in a different light here, and I am glad that so many people are enjoying it.

  15. NixyKnox says:

    I was so taken with the picture of Aida Overton Walker that I looked her up. She was an entertainer, “The Queen of the Cakewalk” and performed with Bert Williams. Such a wonderful set of pictures. Thank you.

    • Xenia says:

      You have me thinking that I should write a blog post about Aida Walker. I am putting on my list of posts to write after I am done with this semester.

  16. Melinda Trotti says:

    Wow! I have just begun my search for posters or photographs of people of color in the U.S., particularly southern California, beginning in the 1870’s or so. I direct a historic retreat center built in 1892 and want to display photographs of the many ethnic groups that were living here during the time it was built. If anyone can help me out, please reply. I just ordered the book to have in our library. If anyone would be willing to let me hang reproductions of their photos of their ancestors, I would be thrilled and would, of course, give credit. We are owned by the church so do not have money to pay. Just wanting to represent the ancestors of all of the peoples who use our site. Thank you!

  17. Roslyn Rawls says:

    Xenia, these photos are beautiful. I, like you, have always wondered about the lives of Black folk in the Victorian era. Thank you very much for your work and these gorgeous portraits.

  18. Ruth says:

    I loved these photographs, I collect books that focus on photographs of African americans from slavery times to the early parts of the 20th century. My favorite is One More River to Cross.

  19. Celeste Coleman says:

    The book Dark Victorians may be found at a remarkable site for rare and out of print books.

  20. Amanda R. says:

    These pics are amazing! What a great collection. Do you know of any collections of other peoples of color in this time period? I’ve been looking for pictures of Chinese people in Victorian England.

  21. Lisa "BellaForStar" Perez says:

    This is one of the reasons why history should always be maintained and preserved. It is such an amazing thing to be able to salvage treasures as these over 100 yrs time! Thank you for sharing & spreading such a little known part of history. Kudos!

  22. lady Esyelle T.Barda says:

    I came across your blog and fell in love with it. I have been doing much research on the black victorian. I am what you would consider a time warpper. I am a living history reeactor of the victorian era. I might be called the modern day victorian woman, living my life as a Victorian women of her era. It is quite challenging as you can imagine. I would like for you to stop by my blog.

    • Xenia says:

      Hello Lady Esyelle – Thank you for stopping by Collar City Brownstone. I enjoy the subject of black Victorians. I would love to spend time researching it too. The clothes are incredible. I am glad that you are doing your own thing and living as a Victorian woman.

      I did stop by your blog and it is lovely. I will visit again soon.

  23. Callaluna says:

    Oh, Xenia, I just discovered this and it is wonderful! The story of Queen Victoria’s ward should be made into a movie! Imagine Kerry Washington and Idris (sigh) Elba in the roles! Oprah…are you listening?
    Idris Elba is on the brink of enormous stardom with his new movie in which he plays Nelson Mandela!

    • Xenia says:

      Better late than never Callaluna. I am glad that your comment reminded me about this blog post. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.

      I wish the highest success for Idris Elba. He is a very talented actor.

  24. Maria Roman says:

    I loved these pictures there just wonderful, i was also wondering about the kind of food they eat and honest i would like to learn more, a little of everything….Thank so much these pictures are just great…

  25. Jennifer Morris says:

    I love the photos. I wish we knew more about the individuals in the photos, where they lived, what they did, family info, etc. I always wondered about blacks in the victorian age. Thank you for this.

    • collarcitybrownstone says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      You are very welcomed. I am so glad that you stopped by. I would love to learn more about black people during the Victorian era. I love that these photos depict something other than blacks being poor and down trodden all the time.

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