Josephine (Josefina) Bracken (1876-1902)

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Wife of Dr. Jose Rizal
By Isagani R. Medina, Ph.D.
Reprinted from the Summer 1997 issue of the Heritage Magazine

Born of Irish parents, James Brown and Elizabeth MacBride, Josephine Leopoldine or Joserina as she was affectionately called by Filipinos, was born in Victoria City, Hong Kong on August 9, 1876. She took the family name Bracken from her adopted father, a Mr. Bracken. On February 5, 1895, Josephine Bracken, accompanying George Edward Taufer, a 63-year old blind American widower and machinist from New York City, her foster father, and a 40-year old lady from Macau (Francesca Spencer) landed in Manila.

The trio stayted at No. 5 Ylaya Street in Tondo. Taufer’s plan was to consult Jose Rizal, a well-known ophthalmologist, for an operation on his double cataracft. Julio Llorente, a Filipino resident of Hong Kong recommended Rizal as a specialist who could cure his eyes.

In the same month (February 1895), Josephine and her foster father went to Dapitan in Zamboanga to consult Rizal on his ailment. The following month on March 14, Josephine went back to Hong Kong returning to Dapitan with Mrs. Narcisa Rizal-Lopez, Rizal’s eldest sister. This was on July 4 of the same year.

Josephine became Rizal’s sweetheart at Dapitan. Out of this relationship, a series of minor crises came into the life of our national hero. The domestic help, as well as the sisters of Dr. Rizal who were there to make life more comfortable for him in that forsaken place, suspected Josephine, a white women, of being a Spanish spy.

The other crisis was the birth of a stillborn son who was named by Dr. Rizal’s sister Francisco in honor of their father. Josephine, on the other hand, preferred the name Peter for her son. The baby was buried somewhere in the Gazebo (Glorieta), the favorite working place of Dr. Rizal, which was part of the improvements he made in Dapitan.

But prior to his actual departure, Dr. Rizal burned the gazebo. His relatives wonder why he did this before he left for Manila enroute to Cuba. A few reasons could be pointed out. Dr. Rizal’s desire to clean the slate of his past life by forgetting the pettiness and bickerings of the past with the hope of a better future.

The other was to erase any proof that the church could later accuse him of. It will be recalled that the couple applied for a marriage license which was denied by the church authorities. It was much later when the engaged couple were married with Fr. Victor Balaguer, S.J. as the officiating priest. This was at 5:30 a.m. on December 30, 1896, about two hours before he was shot at Bagumbayan (now Rizal Park).

After the execution of Rizal, Josephine, with Paciano and Trinidad Rizal (her brother- and sister-in-law, the latter a Katipunera and a Mason), crossed the tightly-guarded enemy lines towards Cavite. At the time of their arrival, the Magdiwang and Magdalo factions were meeting at the Casa hacienda of Imus, according to Artermio Ricarte.

Santiago V. Alvarez’ Memoirs, however, differs. He said that the Rizals came at past one o’clock in the afternoon of December 30, 1896 at San Francisco de Malabon (now General Trias). Andres Bonifacio, the Katipunan supremo, received the Rizals himself at the house of Mrs. Estefania Potente where he was staying.

In fact, it was at this time that Bonifacio asked if he could keep for some time a copy of Rizal’s poem “Mi Ultimo Adios” in Spanish so that he could translate it into Tagalog with the assistance of Diego Mojica, President of the Populat Council Mapagtiis and local Cavite&ntildeo poet and writer in Tagalog.

At the request of Josephine Bracken, she was billeted at the Tejeros estate house which she converted into a field hospital for the revolutionists. Together with the women of San Francisco de Malabon, Josephine took care of the sick and wounded Filipino soldiers from the battlefields.

She acted as the morale booster of the soldiers while making day and night rounds of the sick at the hospital. Josephine Bracken was an actual witness to the Tejeros convention of March 22, 1897.

(missing part of paragraph) miseries when she made the trek through the mountains of Maragondon from April to May 1897.

From Maragondon, the Rizals proceded to Laguna de Bay, accompanied by some women evacuees. They corssed the dense forests over difficult passes and paths. Frequently barefooted, her feet bleeding, Josephine did not stop walking.

At times, she rode on a carabao led by Paciano Rizal. Upon reaching Bay, Laguna, she was received by the Katipunan leader Venancio Cueto who thought of a plan so that she could be transported safely to Manila. From Manila, Josephine returned to Hong Kong.

On December 15, 1898, Josephine Bracken remarried, this time to another Filipino, Vicente Abad, a businessman whom she met in Hong Kong. Soon, the Abads were balikbayans to the Philippines. Josephine taught English in a school where the future president of the Philippines, Sergio Osme&ntildea of Cebu, was one of her famous students. The Abad family was full of praises for Josephine.

In her second marriage, Josephine had a child named Dolores (nicknamed Pichay). Some of the Abads, all mestizos, claimed that Pichay was not a daughter of Vicente but of Dr. Rizal.

It is possible since at the time of the arrival of the Abads in Manila, Dr. Rizal was still considered by the Spaniards a traitor, hence, the couple might have decided to declare the child, a daughter of Abad., For how could it be possible, they continued, that a 3/4 European blooded girl be so dark and have the features of Dr. Rizal?

Dolores was a bright student who after her parents’ death could not go on for further studies. She had one added characteristic. In spite of her poverty, she did not want to receive outright alms but insisted on working for the money. Letran and Sto. Tomas priests helped her a lot and she did menial chores for them. Relatives of Rizal consider this characteristic as also a Rizal trait.

But Vicente Abad, up to his death, had insisted that Pichay was his own daughter and the latter stood by him. Both loved each other. When Josefa and Trinidad Rizal died and a feature article appeared stating that the two, being spinsters did not have heirs, again friends and relatives urged her to claim that she was the daughter of Dr. Rizal. She refused.

It is also possible that she is Abad’s daughter. After all Abad had also Filipino blood. The crux of the matter can be finally decided when a competent researcher could go to Hong Kong and search for the true date of Dolores’ birth. Dolores got married but died a few years ago. She left children the family name Mina.

Rizal’s dulce extrangera expired quietly on March 15, 1902, a victim of tuberculosis of the larynx. She was buried in the Happy Valley Cemetery in Hong Kong.

References:
Bracken, Josephine, Description of my life [Cavite], February 22, 1897.
Cabrera, Gene. Rizal and Josephine: Manila; Bookman Printing House; 1990.
Coates, Austin Wales: Jose Rizal; Philippine nationalist and martyr.
Eminent Filipinos: Manila: National Historical Commission, 1965, pp. 66-67.
Letter dated June 24, 1994 of Mr. Francisco Rizal Lopez and Mrs. Eugenia Rizal Lopez de Villaruz.
National Archives, Manila: File on Josephine Bracken and George Taufer, 1895.
Ricarte, Artermio: Ang Himagsikan nang manga Pilipino laban sa Kastila. Hapon, Yokohama, 1926.
Ricarte, Artermio: The Hispano-Philippine revolution: Yokohama, 1926.
Rizal, Jowe: One hundred letters of Jose Rizal to his brothers, sisters, relatives: Manila: Philippine National Historical Society; 1959, pp: 555-60.

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Don Brennock
June 26, 2008
4:43 am

There is NO reliable evidence whatever that Josephine Bracken and Dr. Rizal ever married. Furthermore, a minimal examination of the relatively easily available documentary evidence shows that she was born the youngest Daughter of James Bracken(27 at marriage) of the 28th. Regiment(the Glorious Glosters) and Elizabeth McBride(24 at marriage), who had been married in Belfast on 4th. May 1868.
Don Brennock.

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