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Agnes Joaquim (b. 7 April 1854, Singapore - d. 2 July 1899, Singapore) a. k. a. Ashkhen Hovakimian, an Armenian, is best known for breeding the hybrid orchid Vanda Miss Joaquim, in 1893. The flower was selected as Singapore's national flower in 1981.
Agnes was the eldest daughter and second child of a brood of 11 of Parsick (Basil) Joaquim, an Armenian merchant and commercial agent. Their family had an illustrious history of contributions to the Singapore community, beginning with Agnes' father's philanthropy towards the general community. By 1861, the family had moved from 30 Hill Street to Mt Narcis, the name of the family mansion which sat on Parsick Hill off Tanjong Pagar. Narcis was the first-born son of Parsick and is the namesake of the road leading up to the home. Agnes herself is more known for having cultivated an orchid in the gardens of this Joaquim home in Narcis Street off Tanjong Pagar in 1893. She was an avid gardener as her mother was, specialising in breeding orchids. She won prizes at annual flower shows but it was the prize for the rarest orchid at the 1899 annual flower show that would seal her name in history. The first prize was for a hybrid that was named after her, the Vanda Miss Joaquim. Already suffering from cancer then, the unmarried Agnes died soon after receiving this prize. However, the significance of her orchid far outlived the accomplishments of her siblings. In 1981, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, was proclaimed Singapore's national flower. Agnes' green fingers however meant that she had several other varieties of orchids and plants in her garden besides the Vanda Miss Joaquim. Besides gardening, she was also an active member of the Armenian Church and a skilled embroiderer.
Agnes Joaquim's tombstone can be found in the grounds of the Armenian Church at Hill Street. It was originally located at the Bukit Timah cemetery.
Grandfather: Isaiah Zachariah, her maternal grandfather, was one of the first members of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (then known as the Singapore Chamber of Commerce) and a warden in the local Armenian community.
Father: Basil alias Barsigh or Parsick Joaquim (b. 1818? - d. Singapore, 17 May 1872), merchant and commercial agent from 1840s. On 17 February 1852, he married Urelia also known as Urughlu. Believed to originate from Madras, Parsick's role as a commercial agent often took him to Calcutta, Batavia and Penang. A well-known philanthropist, he acquired considerable property and investments thus enabling his family to tide through his sudden death in 1872.
Mother: Urelia Zachariah (b. Singapore, 1828 - d. ?) a gardening enthusiast who gained awards at annual flower shows during the 1880s and 1890s.
Siblings: She had 11 siblings. Narcis Street was named after her eldest brother Nerses (b. 2 December 1852) a.k.a Narcis. Her other brothers, Joe (b.1 April 1856), Seth (b.11 September 1866) and Robert were well-known barristers. Joe, otherwise known as Joaquim, was a founder of the Braddel Brothers, a legal company. Another brother, Arathoon (b. 2 July 1864) was the Deputy Registrar of the Hackney Carriages Department. Josephine, the youngest sister also has an orchid named after her, the Vanda Miss Joaquim 'Josephine'.
The Armenian names are anglicised in various ways. Thus Agnes' name is sometimes spelt Ashkhen or Ashghen and her surname Hovakimian, Joachim or Joakim.
Teoh, E. S. (1998). A joy forever: Vanda Miss Joaquim, Singapore's national flower (pp. 29-31). Singapore: Times Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 584.4095957 TEO)
Wright, N. H. (2003). Respected citizens: The history of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia (pp. 145 - 150, 218 - 220). Victoria, Australia: Amassia Publishing.
(Call no.: RSING 305.891992 WRI)
Khor, C. (1981, July 19). Her tombstone found - more light shed on Miss Joaquim. Sunday Nation, p. 3.
Miss Joaquim's nephew coming for flower week. (1981, July 19). The Sunday Times, p. 6.
Singapore days of old: A special commemorative history of Singapore published on the 10th anniversary of Singapore Tatler (p. 142). (1992). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)
Wright, N. H. The Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid. Amassia Publishing. Retrieved February 27, 2004 from www.amassia.com.au/orchid.htm
The information in this article is valid as at 2003 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.
Politics and Government>>National Symbols
Joaquim, Agnes, 1854-1899--Biography
Vanda Miss Joaquim--Singapore--History
Science and technology>>Botany>>Flowering plants