A GLIMPSE INTO THE LIFE OF JOSEPHINE BRACKEN
by Augusto V. de Viana
Called by Dr. Jose Rizal as his “dulce extranjera,” Josephine Bracken lived a short and largely sad life. Bracken was the daughter of Irish parents, James Bracken and Elizabeth MacBride. Her father was a corporal in the British Army. Her siblings consisting of one brother and three sisters were born in different places where her father was stationed. Josephine was born in Hong Kong in 1876 where her mother died. Her father was unable to support his children and was forced to give Josephine up for adoption.
Josephine lived with the family of George Taufer, a former machinist from New York. Around 1893, Mr. Taufer started to have trouble with his eyes. Many doctors were consulted but his condition only got worse. Around that time Filipinos living in Hong Kong already knew him. A Filipino resident, Julio Llorente said that Jose Rizal was an eye specialist and could cure his eyes. On February 5, 1895, Taufer, Josephine and a lady companion from Macau named Francesca Spencer arrived in Manila looking for Rizal. At that time Josephine was 18 years old. The attraction between Rizal, the lonely exile, and the young woman blossomed into a relationship. It was not a smooth one because Rizal’s sisters who were in Dapitan to make life more comfortable for their brother suspected Josephine to be a spy of the Spaniards. Nevertheless, Rizal loved Josephine and affectionately called her Josefina. Being a mason, Rizal and Josephine could not get married. Josephine bore him a stillborn child, a son who would have been named Peter by Josephine or Francisco, by Rizal’s sisters, in honor of their father. Rizal the grieving father, buried his son near the gazebo of his estate where he worked as a doctor. Just before he left for Cuba in 1896 Rizal burned down the gazebo.
Josephine and Rizal reunited for the last time at the latter’s cell in Fort Santiago on December 30, 1896. The couple were married in Catholic rites by Fr. Victor Balaguer two hours before Rizal’s execution at Bagumbayan. After his execution Josephine, accompanied by Paciano and Trinidad Rizal entered rebel territory in Cavite. They were received by Andres Bonifacio who received from the Rizals a copy of the hero’s last poem which would be known as the Mi Ultimo Adios.
Josephine stayed with the Katipuneros until May 1897. Around February Josephine wrote a short recollection of her life from her birth up to her marriage with Rizal. It showed her sad experiences after the death of her mother, and as an adopted daughter who had problems with Mr. Taufer’s wives. Taufer had married twice after the death of his first wife. After the part she wrote after the death of Rizal, Josephine cryptically ended her narration: “Good bye Father I am dead.”
Josephine did not die after writing her recollections. After the insurgent stronghold at San Francisco de Malabon fell to the Spaniards on April 6, 1897 she was moved to Naic and on to Maragondon the following month. While escaping from the Spanish army she walked barefooted or was carried by a carabao. She reached Laguna where Venancio Cueto, a Katipunan leader sneaked her into Manila and from there Josephine sailed back to Hong Kong.
Josephine remarried in Hong Kong to another Filipino named Vicente Abad on December 15, 1898. They had a daughter named Dolores. While in Hong Kong, Josephine contracted tuberculosis. She died on March 15, 1902 and was buried at the Happy Valley Cemetery. Her grave remains unknown today since the cemetery has been converted into a racetrack.
Sometime in 1961, the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission published Rizal’s letters to his friends and relatives. Included among these letters was one made by Josephine in 1897 which was a brief description of her life:
Discription (sic) of My Life
22nd February 1897 Monday
My mother is a native of Ireland and was married to my father on the 3rd of May 1868 in Belfast, Ireland. My father’s name is James Bracken and my mother’s maiden name was Elizabeth Jane MacBride. We were five brothers and sisters, Charles, Agness, Nelly, Francis and myself Josephine. Charles was born on the 10th of April 1869. Agness was born in Malta on the 14th May 1873. Francis was born on the 2nd of June 1875 and died on the 1st April 1875. Nelly was born at Gibraltar on the 21st July 1871 and I was born in Hong Kong at the Victoria Barracks on the 9th of August 1876. My father is a corporal and detachment schoolmaster of a detachment at Pembroke Camp. My mother died on the 2ndof September 1876 after giving birth to me. After the loss of my beloved mother I was then removed to the care of a (illegible) laborer untill (sic) her burial. As my father is a military (sic) he could not attend to all of us especially for me being so very small he gave me to a famailly (sic) to be adopted. The kind and benevolent couple Mr. and Mrs. Taufer took very good care of me until I was seven years old. Unfortunately at that age was when my adopted mother died.
This is when I was seven years of age, 1882
Mrs. Taufer died on the 8th of October 1882 with a heart disease. A year after Mr. Taufer took to another wife, then my troubles commenced little by little. On the 13th July 1889 we took a trip to Japan on account of Mrs. Taufer’s illness. We stayed in Japan (for) three months; but her health did not recover we returned back to Hong Kong. We arrived in Hong Kong on the 24th of November 1889. But Mrs. Taufer got worse and died on the 26th April 1890.
This is when I was fifteen years of age 1890
On the 12th November 1891 Mr. Taufer took to a third wife which (sic) was a torment to me. On the 12th December I left Mr. Taufer’s house and went to the Italian convent because I could not anymore attend to her troubles. I stayed in the convent two months when Mr. Taufer came begging me to go home because his wife was starving him. As I could not bear him complaining. I went back on the 3rd February 1892 to take care of his house. On the 14th September I had trouble again with Mrs. Taufer and hunted (?) her out of the house. In 1893 Mr. Taufer got very ill and had sore eyes, as he hired several doctors but none could do him any good.
This was when I was eighteen years of age
On the 5th of September we went to Manila for the purpose of seeing Dr. Jose Rizal. Unfortunately Dr. Rizal was not in Manila but up (in) the provinces. We stayed in Manila for six months and then we went up to Dr. Rizal’s place. We arrived in Dapitan that is the name of the province on the 14th of March 1894 in the morning at 7 ‘o clock. We stayed there a week before Dr. Rizal operated on his eyes. After a week’s time Mr. Taufer could see a little. On the 22nd of February Dr. Rizal asked Mr. Taufer if he had any objection if he marry me. But Mr. Taufer objected it, as I had affection towards Mr. Rizal. I intended to marry him. I accompanied Mr. Taufer back to Manila and returned to Dapitan in the next steamer. By that time Dr. Rizal prepared everything for our marriage. When everything was prepared I heard from a Spaniard that when we are married they would separate me from my husband. I thought it over and told Dr. Rizal that it is better for us to waite (sic) until he gets his freedom. Anyhow I stayed with him for one year and we lived very very happy. Thank God I had a very peaceful life as if I were a child on (illegible) mother(‘s) knee. I cannot complain of his care. (Illegible) but id did not last very long. My happiness lasted only 20 months when my sorrows commenced again.
This is when I was nineteen years of age. 1895
On the 20th of July 1896, Dr. Rizal left Dapitan for Cuba as a doctor in the army. But unfortunately they (the Spanish authorities) brought him back again and shot him on the 30th December 1896. Before his execution he married me at 5 o’ clock in the morning.
This is when I am twenty years of age. 1896
Josephine Bracken de Rizal. A widow.
Good bye Father I am dead.