Agnes Joaquim – Ashkhen Hovakimian (1854-1899)
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.