Josephina Bracken - Her bonds of love with Jose Rizal


The Philippine national hero Jose Rizal was not only a great intellectual mind on many fields, which played a substantial role in the process of developing the Philippine identity. He was also communicative, charming - a man, which liked to make friends. In this context the woman sex was not excluded. In the literature about him, it is told, that he had in his short life closer contacts to more than ten women. Three of them - Leonor Rivera, Nelly Bousteadt and Josephine Bracken - are considered as potential brides-to-be.

We touch first briefly the love relationships to Leonor Rivera and Nelly Bousteadt and then we will return to the main figure of our article Josefina Bracken. The person of the Philippine national hero Jose Rizal and his political involvements remain in the background. However, references are necessary, because the life of the both is interrelated for a longer time with each other.    


I. Leonora Rivera and Nelly Boustead   

The 18-year-old Rizal meets Leonora Rivera for the first time when Leonora celebrates her 13th birthday in the house of herfather. She plays the piano and also knows how to sing well. The both fall in love not only all of a sudden, their love relationship also continues. Admittedly, it becomes a love on distance, because already two years later Rizal starts his first study trip to Europe. Six years the both will correspond with each other without seeing again ever.  

Then Leonora’s mother starts to prevent the love relationship. Rizal is for her only a rebellious Illustrado. She intercepts the correspondence of the both with the help of a bribed post-office official. Jose and Leonora must now believe that they forget each another. Nevertheless, the memory of their first, great love is mighty. It is supposed that Leonora is the real reference person behind the novel figure of Maria Clara in Rizals novel "Noli me Tangere". Meanwhile Leonora’s mother has already looked out for another marriage nominee for Leonora. It is the English railway engineer Henry Kipping whom Leonora also marries then.  

The following could be taken from a melodramatic novel. Now she burns all love letters received from Rizal, however, but she preserves the ashes of the letters in a small box on. Already two years after her marriage she passed away. She wishes on the death bed to get dressed with the clothes she wore, when she met Rizal the first time. The small box with the ashes of Rizals letters should also enclosed in the coffin.

The acquaintance of Nelly Boustead makes Rizal when he stays in 1889 in the summer residence of his wealthy friend E. Boustead in Biarritz on the French Spanish border. He had found out by now that his young love Leonora in Manila was given to another suitor. Nelly is an attractive, well educated and idolized Filipina- Mestiza.  

The both meet in the studio of the known Philippine painter Juan Luna. When once the brother of the painter Antonio makes ambiguous remarks on Nelly, Rizal blows his top and challenges Antonio to a duel. The duel does not take place, because Antonio apologizes. However, considered marriage plans fail because the religiously oriented Nellie wants only to marry him if he joins her Protestant belief. The Christian Rizal, who was always critical to official churches, cannot accept this. Besides, he fears that his mother who had all the life a decisive influence on him would never forgive him a change of faith. Opposition against a wedding also came from Nelly’s mother who feared that Rizal could not give her daughter an adequate standard of living. The two separate; nonetheless they remained friends afterwards.  


II. Josefina Bracken - the “sweet stranger “  

Let us first add that the life of Josefina (1876 - 1902) leaves us partly in the dark, this concerns, especially the motives of her actions. Only few letters from her are existent. It is controversial whether the attractive woman kept a diary in Dapitan. It never turned up. Therefore, biographers have to refer to statements of other persons, which - besides facts - also include unproved speculations. The famous Rizal biographer Austin Craig writes in this context. „ Josefina must remain a mystery to us as she was to Rizal “(1). Also his colleague Ambeth R. Ocampo states after own investigations in a resigning way: „ We know very little about here … there are so many unanswered questions about here. “ (2)

Early years   

Josephine Bracken was born in August, 1876 as the youngest of five children of the British army corporal James Brown and his ethnic Irish woman Jane in Hong Kong. The mother dies already few days after the birth of Josephine. Shortly after the death she gets adopted by her godfather, the American pump engineer Edward Taufer. Later Josephine will not see anymore her natural father as well as her sibling. Father Bracken moves after his retirement to Australia and there he shall have been killed by robbers later.  

Josephine visits an Italian convent school for some years without reaching a higher graduation. This circumstance may also explain why her texts are a little faulty occasionally. When Mr. Taufer marries in 1891 after the death of his first wive a third time, Josephine flees out of the house for fear of the new stepmother which supposedly tormented her. For some weeks she finds refuge in the convent school. Nevertheless, the foster father asks her to return home, because his third wife cannot lead the household apparently. Josephine stands her ground in the struggle with her stepmother; she hunts her out the house. Afterwards Taufer gets very dependent from Josephine, because he falls in with mutual cataract. He is threatened by the total loss of sight. A clinic stay in Japan does not bring any recovery. Nevertheless, they still remind on Jose Rizal, which has been a successful   ophthalmologist in Hong Kong some years ago. The 63-year-old Mr. Taufer - meanwhile widowed again - and his 18-year-old foster-daughter decides to visit Rizal for an ocular-medical consultation in the Philippines.  

In 1892 the Spanish rulers had sent Rizal - without closer judicial examination and until uncertain time - in the exile to Dapitan (a coast place in the northern Mindanao) because of the spreading of "riotous" material (3). Requests for a rising of the exile failed. The resigning Rizal is in correspondence there with many people, only the feminine members of the family are allowed to visit him.  


The first stay at the exile place Rizals in Dapitan   

Mr. Taufer appears with his foster-daughter in February, 1895 in Dapitan. Rizal operates Mr. Taufer on the eyes, but the operation improves his powers of vision only minimally.   

Rizal lives now for already four years relatively lonely, he is captivated by the appearance of Josephine. Before him stands a slim, merry teenager with curly, chestnut-colored hair and dreamy blue eyes. The two fall passionately in love. His members of the family warn him - could Josephine not be also a spy of the Spanish colonial rulers or the Catholic clergy? Didn’t he make already experience with a spy in the past? And  was the second escort from Mr. Taufer not lined "unofficially" with a canon from Manila? Rizal’s sister Maria even advises her brother that each food - prepared by Josephine - should be first tasted and checked by another person.                                                                                                                                                          

Rizal cannot believe these doubts. Already after seven days of stay the 35-year-old Rizal asks Mr. Taufer for the hand of Josephine. Mr. Taufer is horrified and in despair. Is he not depended on the assistance of Josephine? Was she not for him, the nearly blind man, „ seeing eye “, his - as senator Roco assumes - „ not quite innocent relation “. He thinks of suicide and wants to cut open the arteries with the razor. Only with effort Rizal manages to stop Mr. Taufer. To prevent another tragedy, Josephine still returns with her foster father to Manila with destination Hong Kong in March, 1894.  

Rizal does not know, if Josephine returns. He hands over the following short poem in English translation to Josephine:   



Who to these shores came,

Searching for a home, a nest,

Like the wandering swallows,

If your fate guides you

To Shanghai, China, or Japan,

Forget not that on these shores

A heart beats for you.


Return to Dapitan

Mr. Taufer calms down again and returns to Hong Kong. Josephine remains in Manila some months. She can take lodgings with the Rizal family in Manila, after Rizal had written the following recommendation letter to his mother:    


14th March, 1985

My dear Mother,

 The bearer of this letter is Miss Josephine Leopoldine Tauffer whom I was on   the point of marrying, counting on your consent, of course. Our relations were   broken on   her suggestion on account of the numerous difficulties on the way.   She is almost alone in the world; she has only very distant relatives. As I am interested in her and it is very possible that she may later decide to join me and as she may be left all alone and abandoned, I beg you to give her hospitality there, treating her as a daughter, until she shall have an opportunity or occasion to come here. 

Treat Miss Josephine as a person whom I esteem and value much and whom I   would not like to be unprotected and abandoned. Your most affectionate son who   loves you, 


She wants to introduce herself with Rizal’s family Rizals, to make a good impression and to dispel the strong family reservations towards the "stranger". However, apart from Rizal’s sister Narcissa a critical distance of the family will be preserved all the life. It is in particular the Rizal’s mother Rizals, the dominant Dona Teodora which meets her with reserve. Then at the beginning of July, 1895 Josephine is again with her "sweetheart". The couple will still be together happily in love for a year. Josephine keeps the house, learns how to prepare local dishes, repairs clothes and takes care of the children of sister Narcissa. But the sky over the nest of the both becomes cloudy by several circumstances.  


Both live in now in wild marriage, in the "state of the sin “, for the Catholic surroundings a scandal. Religious Josephine suffers also from it. Therefore, Rizal tries to get an ecclesiastical wedding. For the princes of Catholic Church the passive freemason Rizal is a heretical man. Didn’t he criticize in his novel "Noli me tangere" the clergy - and here in particular the monk's orders? Rizal feels himself strongly anchored in the Catholic belief, even if he does not share, for example, the Mariolatry. He visits every Sunday the mass. The bishop of Cebu who had to give special permission to the marriage sends Father Obach to Dapitan.


   Feather Drawing Rizal


He should check the religious principles and should persuade him to a revocation of his church-critical statements. Rizal formulates a cancellation which however is less satisfactory for the Church princes in Cebu. Now the ecclesiastical marriage with Josephine is failed, for the time being.  

Whether the two had a civil marriage is controversial. The literature partly affirms and partly denies it. We assume that this was not the case. On the one hand, Austin Craig (4) argues that the Spanish legislation intended in principle to establish the institute of the civil marriage also in the Philippines, however, the regulations were not installed. Rizal presumably would have got a civil wedding only for the price of a cancellation of his political intentions. And Josephine himself writes in a passage „ that she had heard from a Spaniard that if they would marry, she would be separate from her husband (5). The historian Craig assumes that married themselves in presence of two witnesses.  

Again and again, Rizal has to justify his liaison with Josephine and he sends reminders for a better treatment of her. In a letter from January, 1886 he speaks a bit cool from „the person who lives in my house“ and explains to the mother in a slightly patriarchal-authoritarian attitude:

“You will receive a small quantity of salted fish prepared by the person who lives at my home. She is good, obedient, and meek. All that we lack is to be married; but, as you yourself say, "It is better to be in the grace of God than married in mortal sin." Until now we have not quarreled and when I lecture to her, she does not answer back. If you come and live with her, I hope you will get along with her. Moreover, she has nobody else in the world but me. I'm all her kindred.”

And he assures to his sister Trining in a letter of the same month:

… Miss J. is better than her reputation, and since she has been staying with me, her little defects are being corrected. She is meek and obedient, and not hardheaded; besides she has a good heart …. Until now we have not quarreled; we are always gay, jesting. The public can say that it is a scandal; without doubt it is. It is very scandalous to live better than many married people.

But in spite of the efforts of Rizal and little presents of Josephine most sisters remain mistrustful. In August, 1896 she stays at Manila - we will later see why - and she writes still deeply hurt and also desperately to Rizal:    

"Ah! My dear, I am suffering a great deal with them in Trozo. It is quite true they ought to be ashamed of me as they say in my face and in the presenance (sic) of Sra. Narcisa and their children because I am not married to you. So if you are surprized (sic), if you like me to send all your things on board of the man of war I can do so…. If you go to Spain you see any one of your fancy you better marry her, but dear (sic) heare (sic) me, better marry than to live like who [what?] we have been doing. I am not ashamed to let people know my life with you but as your dear sisters are ashamed I think you had better get married to someone else..."

This is writing a Josephine, who is ready for sacrifice and who will be bandaged to Rizal in deep love up to his early death.  

Another sorrow waits for the pregnant Josephine in March, 1896. In the eighth month of pregnancy, she suffers from a miscarriage in which the born son passes away after three hours of life. The cause for miscarriage is unclear and an object of speculations. It is mentioned that Rizal played a prank with her and that she crashed into an iron rack. Erlinda Albino is not excluding a marital row (6). Rizal himself remains rather monosyllabic in his letter from March, 1886 addressed to his mother and informs only about the incident.  

Nowadays, the grave of the son - who should be called Francisco (also Peter) - is unknown.  Rizal, who otherwise registered everything so meticulously, did not record it to the posterity. Some authors assume Rizal would have buried his son in his garden bower, his preferential workplace. But for what motive did he - later with his departure to Manila burn down the garden bower under with funeral music? Others assume a funeral „ somewhere in the forests of Talisay “. Leon Ma. Guerrero even regards it as possible that there was no miscarriage at all. It was only pretended to save the life of the son. Would the son - so Guerrero - not have had fallen in disgrace as a "bastard son" of Rizal - „ the heretic, apostate, excommunicant, exile!” (7)? Many contemporary documents speak against this very daring speculation of Leon Ma. Guerrero. For example, Rizal is for the majority of Katipunan members, which now are fighting for the independence of the Philippines an idol, even if he does not join their combative objectives and pleads for peaceful steps of reform. Because of this standpoint, the disappointed Bonifacio called him - after inconclusive negotiations - a coward.    

The last months with Rizal

In our article the life of Josephine Bracken stands in the center, therefore Rizal’s further destiny can only be touched here.  

Rizal suffers - in spite of the presence of Josephine and sporadic visits by members of the family - from the isolation of his exile, which lasted already now more than four years. Then his friend Blumentritt informs him that doctors are urgently searched to the care of the Spanish soldiers on Cuba. Now, Rizal offers to the Spanish general governor Blanco to go voluntarily as a medical officer to Cuba if his exile is lifted and if he gets personal freedom. After hesitating a longer time the general governor agrees to his plan.  

We do not know whether Rizals plan found also the unrestricted approval of Josephine. Years of separation are waiting for the two. Was for Rizal a marital crisis also a motive? Rebomantan indicates that Rizal was perhaps no longer so happy with Josephine (8).  

In August, 1986 Rizal arrives together with Josephine in Manila. The cruiser Castilla should bring him at first to Spain with later destination to Cuba. While on ship Josephine, which now makes some money as a teacher of English and piano playing, writes him a heart-breaking letter. Her English is a bit jerky:  

…. Oh! dear how I miss you. I will always be good and   faithful to you, and also do good to my companions so that the good God will   bring you back to me. I will try all my best to be good to your family   … How it made the tears flew   in my eyes when I read those few lines of you. Say darling say it makes me think of our dear old hut in Dapitan and the many sweet [h]ours we have passed   there. Love I will love you ever, love I will leave thee never, ever to me precious   to thee never to part heart bound to heart or never to say good bye. So my darling, receive many warm Affection and love.

From You ever faithfull and true till death, 


Meanwhile the Katipunan uprising against the Spanish colonial rule breaks out. Rizal is accused to be a ringleader in the uprising and he is arrested still aboard. A ship brings him back to Manila. In November 1886 he is taken into the prison tract of fort Santiago. The relatively liberal general governor Blanco has been exchanged meanwhile by the more rigid general governor Camilo de Polavieja. A very dubious and arbitrary trial which is based on widely wrong accusations follows. It ends with the death sentence. Rizal’s reply, that the Liga Filipina was only short-lived and that it always supported peaceful reforms, remains unnoticed. Rizal is brought in the death cell where he prepares for his death.  


Wedding and the last hours with Rizal   


It is Rizal’s desire to get married with Josephine according to the Roman Catholic rite. However, the authorities of the Catholic make a condition. Rizal should retract some earlier, as heretic classified statements. They send the Jesuit Frater Balaguer to him in the cell. He should try to bring him in the conversation again on the line of the Catholic Church. Now for Rizal hours of moral conflicts and conscience examination are starting. In the end, he agrees. The document whose original was rediscovered in 1935 in the archives of the archdiocese Manila has the following text:  

"I declare myself a Catholic and in this religion in.  I retract with all my heart whatever in my words, writings, publications and conduct has been contrary to my quality as a son of the Catholic Church. I believe and profess whatever she teaches and I submit myself to whatever she commands. I abominate Masonry, as the enemy that it is of the Church, and as a Society prohibited by the Church. The Diocesan Prelate can, as the Superior Ecclesiastical authority, make public this spontaneous manifestation of mine in order to repair the scandals that  my acts have caused and so that God and the people may pardon me."

The retraction is for the Princes of the Church a great success. However, there are also church-critical historians, who deny the existence of a cancellation because it would not have fitted to Rizal’s character. They point out that the retraction was formulated in a very difficult and exceptional situation and that even Rizal’s last poem „ My last Farewell” implicate a church-critical statement:  


…. I'll go where there are no slaves, tyrants or hangmen
Where faith does not kill and where God alone does reign.
Farewell, parents, brothers, beloved by me,
Friends of my childhood, in the home distressed;
Give thanks that now I rest from the wearisome day;
Farewell, sweet stranger, my friend, who brightened my way;
Farewell, to all I love. To die is to rest.


With the formulation „ sweet strangers, my friend, who brightened my way “, Rizal appreciates Josephine Bracken according to the analysts. The both get married after the Catholic rite on the 12/30/1986, at five o'clock in the early morning, two hours before Rizal gets executed. A certificate of marriage is not handed over to Josephine. In the moment of parting Rizal should weeps on the shoulder of Frater Balaguer, while Josephine exclaims in the door of the prison chapel: “Wretched! Sadists!” (9). An execution by heart shot is refused, because Rizal is considered as “traitor”. He is shot by the back (10). The family circle is not present at the execution.


Katipunan fighter


Rizal demanded for longer-term peaceful reform steps in collaboration with the Spanish rulers. In this context it is the very astonishing that Josephine - as well as a brother of Rizal - joined to the fighting revolutionary forces of the Katipunan already four days after his execution. The motives are object of speculations. Did she want to take revenge for the death of Rizal? Was it a real combative political engagement and / or adventurousness? The majority of the round about 2000 Katipunan rebels respect her. Some compare the widow of Rizal with Joan d` Arc, which will lead the combatants to the victory. The leadership of Katipunan - represented by Bonifacio and Aguinaldo - is more restrained. They have not forgotten that Rizal refused a participation in the uprising.

Bonifacio is more interested in a copy of the poem “My last farewell”. General Emilio Aguinaldo is more reserved. Even so after some trainings in the horsemanship and marksmanship he agrees, that Josephine could join the fighting troops. It is told, that she didn’t only reload cartridges for Mauser guns. Foremann reports that she had an emotion of the "satisfaction" when she manages to kill a Spanish officer (11). She motivates the revolutionary combatants and later she builds up - as a kind of "Florence Nightingale" - a field hospital for wounded Katipunan combatants. However, the Katipunan cannot triumph; the Spanish leave the battle fields victoriously. After the defeat she becomes an eyewitness of barbarian actions of the Spanish troops. Sometimes barefooted and with bleeding she succeeds to reach Manila. On her way through several provinces she passed morass and jungle on the back of a Carabao.

Back in Manila the American consul - Josephine is an American - advices her to request for an audience with the Spanish general governor. From Josephine the following courageous and bold dialog is reported:  


Governor: „ What did you go to Ismus (= central place of insurrection) for? “

Josephine: “What did you go there for?”

Governor: „To fight. “

Josephine: „So did I.”

Governor: „Will you leave Manila?”

Josephine: „ Why should I “

Governor: „The Friars will not leave you alone if you stay here, and they will bring you false evidence. I have no power to overrule this. “

Josephine: „ Then what is the use of being Governor General? “ (12).

The governor ends the dialog. It is taken up a few days later again. Now the governor asks her to leave the country. Josephine knows that torture - regardless of her American state citizenship - could threaten her. Therefore, in May, 1897 she returns voluntarily to Hong Kong. She cannot assert hereditary titles, because a testament of Rizal as well as a certificate of marriage is missing.

The governor ends the dialog. It is taken up a few days later again. Now the governor asks her to leave the country. Josephine knows that torture - regardless of her American state citizenship - could threaten her. Therefore, in May, 1897 she returns voluntarily to Hong Kong. She cannot assert hereditary titles, because a testament of Rizal as well as a certificate of marriage is missing.


Hong Kong and back again


Observed by agents of the Spanish consul in Hong Kong, she finds at first lodging in the house of Jose Ma Basa, a former friend of Rizal. He is still in the possession of the library of Rizal and in - for Josephine unfavorable - contacts with the Rizal family in the Philippines. In press articles she criticizes the Spanish arbitrary government, but now she uses her new name “Rizal” rather seldom.

Josephine does not remain alone for a longer period of time. The pragmatic woman gets to know the little prominent and relatively apolitical Philippine commercial businessmen Vicente Abad. Already in December, 1898, thus two years after Rizal’s death, the both marry. Their way leads back them in 1901 to the Philippines: Here Josephine is engaged for a short time inter alia as an English teacher for the later president Osmena.

There is the speculation, that her later daughter Dolores could have been a daughter of Rizal because of her resemblance with Rizal (13). If, however, the birthday of the daughter - so the author Erlinda Alburo - should be the 17th of April 1900, then such assertion is simply meaningless. Besides, the daughter has always refused to present herself as a daughter of Rizal.

In 1902 Josephine falls ill and goes back for a health cure in her native country to Hong Kong. More and more she has difficulties to speak because of tuberculosis. At the age of only 25 years Rizal’s "swallow" she passes away on the 15th of March 1902. Because of supposed infection dangers, she gets buried relatively quickly and quietly at an unknown place on the Happy Valley Cemetery in Hong Kong.


Her distant relative and biographer Macario Ofilda appreciates pays tribute to her short but intensive live with following words:  

"She has already entered into the Philippine history as a minor figure. Her association with Rizal in itself, their mutual love and what came out of this mutual love: the collaboration, the support, the encouragement, the battles, and even a still born son, placed Josephine in the map of Philippine historiography. Perhaps we can consider her as one of the unsung heroes of Philippine history." (14)


© Wolfgang Bethge, in 2007

(1) Austin Craig, Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal, Philippine Patriot, in:



(2)   Ambeth R. Ocampo Loves of Rizal,, 08.04. 2207

(3)   Further details: W. Bethge, Rizal in  Exile,

(4)   Austin Craig, ibid

(5)   One Hundred Letters of Jose Rizal to his Parents, Brother, Sisters, Relatives (Manila: Philippine National Historical Society, 1959), 559-563 in:

(6)   Austin Craig, ibid

(7)   Leon Ma. Guerrero, zitiert nach:

(8)   Quoted after Erlinda K. Alburo, Essays for the Centennial of the Revolution in Cebu, in:

(9)   Antonio M. Molino, The Philippines through the Centuries, 1960, p.97

(10)  Macario Ofilada, Errante Golondrina, The Life and Times of Josephine Bracken, Quezon City, 2003, p. 71

(11)   John Foremann, The Philippine Islands, 1906, New Edition 1980, Manila, p. 388

(12)    Macario Ofilada, ibid, p. 79

(13)   Isagani R. Medina, Josephine (Josefina) Bracken (1876-1902), in:

(14)    Macario Ofilada, ibid, p. 73