Josephine Bracken: woman with a pastBy Ambeth R. Ocampo |Philippine Daily Inquirer
WHILE MOST people are forgotten as soon as they are put six feet under, Josephine Bracken remains controversial 119 years after she died of “milliary tuberculosis and ulceration of the breast.” The latest addition to Bracken literature is “Romance and Revolution,” a hefty volume by Luis Lisa and Javier de Pedro that presents an analysis of available sources. Some authors believe Rizal and Josephine were married in Fort Santiago before he walked to his execution, while others insist otherwise. Whatever your position on the matter, this book is a good start for further study.
I wish to share from my notes this sour interview given by Josephine’s stepfather from The China Mail of Jan. 22, 1897 which has not been cited anywhere before:
“The widow of Dr. Rizal is a woman with a past. The story of the life of the young woman who is stated to have had such a dramatic marriage with the late Dr. Rizal, on the eve of his being shot for complicity in the Philippine Rebellion, loses much of the glamour and romance with which recent events seem to have coloured it, when related by Mr. [George] Taufer, who adopted her as his daughter at a very early age. Mr. Taufer, who resides at No. 8 Western Street, West Point, has had a most varied life. After taking part in the Civil War in America, he sailed from San Francisco to China. He was an engineer by profession, and for a number of years served on some of the coast and river steamers, afterwards enlisting in the Hong Kong Police Force, in which he did service for four years, retiring with the rank of sergeant. He was then appointed chief of the fire brigade of the Hong Kong Fire Insurance Company, retiring from this position in 1894 on account of failing eyesight. Mr. Taufer is now almost stone blind, but fortunately he is otherwise in very comfortable circumstances enjoying the fruits of what he assured us was heard-earned means.
“The girl who was been brought so prominently before the public recently is not as has been stated of mixed parentage, but is of purely Irish extraction. She is in fact a daughter of the regiment, her father having served with the 28th Regiment in Hong Kong. She was born on the 9 August, 1876, and is therefore slightly over 20 years of age. The girl by some unfortunate circumstances having been left unprovided for, Mr. Taufer adopted her as his daughter, and gave her a good education.
“During the two years Mr. Taufer has suffered from cataract he had consulted numerous medical men, in order that he might have his sight restored, but without avail. Finally, he was advised to take a trip to the Philippines, and it was whilst on this journey that he first made the acquaintance of the late Dr. Rizal. In the latter part of September 1894, he departed to the Philippines, leaving Josephine to follow by a later steamer. He stayed in Manila during the months of October, November, December  and January , where he was joined by Josephine, who, he states, had during his absence from Hong Kong made pretty free with his money, and had behaved in a manner hardly reciprocal of the attention which Mr. Taufer had bestowed upon her. She spent a large sum of money which had been entrusted to her keeping in a lavish purchase of jewelry and in other extravagances. When she arrived in Manila she presented herself to her adopted father dressed in all this finery, and on Mr. Taufer being informed by the woman who acted as his nurse of Josephine’s extravagance he could not refrain from reprimanding her. This matter having been eventually settled, Mr. Taufer and his adopted daughter went down to Perin [?] on the Island of Dapitan.
“There is no built house in this place, only a number of mat sheds, but there is a Roman Catholic stone church. Here it was that Dr. Rizal made their acquaintance, being called in to operate on Mr. Taufer’s eyes.
“Mr. Taufer states that he was greatly enraged at the treatment he received at the hands of the doctor. Dr. Rizal cut one of his eyes, and stated he would complete the operation, but he had never done anything more, and the eye operated upon is now sightless, while the other eye is sensitive of a shadow passing over it. Mr. Taufer was so enraged at the doctor’s treatment that he vehemently relates of his endeavor to attack Rizal with a razor but was only prevented by the strenuous efforts of five soldiers.
“Mr. Taufer stayed there only about a month and his adopted daughter frequently requested to be allowed to marry Dr. Rizal, which request he indignantly refused. Josephine used many threats in order to gain his consent to the union, some of which were of a particularly degrading character. Afterwards she stated that she was married to Dr. Rizal, and Mr. Taufer believes this to be the case, and the mock marriage that was carried out previous to the execution was performed under the compulsion of the priests.
“Altogether this woman, who it is stated has gone to the rebel stronghold at Imus, can hardly be regarded, considering her former character as related by one so closely connected with her, as anything approaching the illustrious prototype with whom her name has recently been associated. Mr. Taufer returned to Hong Kong in January 1896[?].”
More hitherto unknown sources from my notes will be shared in future columns.
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