Friday, December 11, 2009

Return to Botany Bay. Part II. Another visit to the Garden

Click here for the first post in this series.

I couldn’t resist another visit to the gardener’s shed and presumed site of the formal Japanese garden said to have been created near Bleak Hall.

Shed 1 DNR has fenced the area as unobtrusively as possible, and has installed gates to discourage entry into vulnerable or dangerous areas.

Shed 2 This tabby-walled shed is said to have been used by “Oqui,” the gardener or botanist John F. Townshend recruited from Washington after Oqui’s return from Asia with Commodore Matthew Perry’s mission in the mid-1850s.

I’ve been looking for more information about “Oqui” since learning about him. Was he Japanese, as some sources describe him? Or was he from Okinawa, China, or Southeast Asia? All are possible. The spelling of his name gives little clue. How long did Oqui live at Botany Bay? Did he die here? If not, where did he go from here? Was he still here during the War? Did he leave any papers or personal effects? All questions to be answered.

Shed 3 Only the tabby walls and floor of the shed seem to me likely to be original. The roof you see above, and other wooden portions of the shed probably have been replaced more than once over the years. Older Edistonians who recall visiting Botany Bay report that the shed in their time was used as a smoke house rather than as a gardener’s shed. Probably after Oqui had either moved on. Or passed on.

Shed 4 Shed 5 Botany Bay Volunteers have removed the more recent trash and debris from the shed since the last time I saw it. Above are a couple of views of the inside walls and the woodwork of the roof. I seem to recall a ceiling from the last visit. Which could well have been a later addition.

Shed 6 Also, now that vines and plant growth have been cleared away, we can see that low tabby walls extended out behind the shed. Was this another storage area? A plant potting area? Or something else entirely? The area enclosed by the low walls is about the size of the shed itself.

Well 1 Here, not far from the shed is a well. Perhaps used by the gardener to water plants and trees he brought in for the garden.

Well 2 Looking in through DNR’s protective grate, you can see the precise brick work of the walls. I heard one well resident plop into the water when I looked in.

Garden 1 Botany Bay jealously guards the secrets of its past. Formidable vines, bushes, and even trees quickly cover foundations. The rich soil and undergrowth provides ideal habitat for all sorts of insects and reptiles. Indeed, I was told the exact site of Bleak Hall, the Townsends’ grand house, has yet to be identified. As well as the site of the formal Japanese garden created and maintained by Oqui.

Garden 2 Edisto’s December weather discourages much, though not all, of Botany Bay’s insect and serpent life. So I ventured into the presumed site of the garden along an ill-defined path behind the shed.

Garden 3 The plant life there looks to me to be incredibly diverse. Though I lack the expertise necessary to identify what belongs, so to speak, and what doesn’t. That is, to identify any descendents of plants brought in by Oqui to create his garden.

Garden 4 I hope one day to return in the company of a botanist. One with both the required expertise and an interest adequate to brave the plant, insect, and reptile challenges of the site. All work for another day. Now, for a look at Botany Bay’s beach.

Click here for the walk to the beach.


  1. This quest for Oqui is right up my alley and I wish you all the best and hope to be kept informed of what you find out about him. Does the Official Report of the Perry expedition yield any information on him? TFC

  2. Bob,

    Perhaps a clue about Oqui could be found by dredging up Commodore Matthew Perry’s ship's log. Not sure where to look for that, though...