Josephine Bracken is a name familiar to Filipinos because he was Jose Rizal’s last love, the woman immortalized towards the end of Ultimo Adios in the words “adios dulce extranjera, mi amiga, mi alegria” [Farewell sweet foreigner, my darling, my delight]. Searching for Josephine on the Internet yields some interesting material; for example, in the New York Times of Sept. 22, 1897, is a story about the widow of Rizal sighted in Philadelphia where she worked to secure aid for the Filipino cause and to avenge her husband’s death. This was definitely new to me and the person was probably an impostor who gave her name as “Marina Cormenol Orbi Hozae Rizal.” This is definitely not Josephine Bracken but someone who used the romantic story of her life to get attention and money.
It is said that none of the Philippine newspapers are available completely online for historical research. The New York Times is fully searchable and if you are lucky you can read the material you need without paying a subscription or viewing fee. I looked up the Hong Kong newspapers of the late 19th century and marveled at all the dispatches from Manila that document the progress of the Philippine Revolution against Spain and the Filipino-American War, too. Josephine Bracken comes out twice in the China Mail of 1897. Following news that the “Widow of Rizal,” as she was called, returned to Hong Kong in May 1897, two images of her came out in the same newspaper: One image, often quoted in books, portrays her as a modern Joan of Arc who fought in the Philippine Revolution and even killed a Spanish officer; the other image emerges from a surly interview given by her stepfather George Taufer who portrayed her as a scheming dishonest woman.
The more positive interview transcribed from the China Mail of May 29, 1897 reads:
“Mrs. Josephine Taufer, widow of Dr. Rizal who was shot in Manila for complicity in the Rebellion in the Philippines arrived in the Colony on May 23 by the Yuensang. A representative of the China Mail visited Mrs. Rizal at her place of residence to-day, and elicited a remarkable story of her career in the Philippines.
“As is now very well known, Mrs. Rizal is an English girl, born in Hong Kong. In August 1894, she sailed for Manila, where Mr. Taufer had gone on medical advice, he having suffered for two years from cataract. After staying for six months in Manila, they journeyed to Perin on the island of Dapitan. Here Dr. Rizal was called upon to undertake the treatment of Mr. Tauffer’s eyes. Dr. Rizal had frequent opportunities of meeting Miss Taufer, and the friendship thus formed deepened into love and ultimately they were engaged. Dr. Rizal was at this time living in banishment. Everything was prepared for the marriage but one day a Spaniard came and told the young couple that if they were to be married he would separate them immediately afterwards. Miss Taufer expressed her surprise at what she termed his silly proposal, and said: ‘If I am not married I remain under the English Flag, and if I am married I will be under the Spanish flag.’
“Various circumstances prevented the union. At Dapitan Dr. Rizal was visited by Pau Balensuele [Pio Valenzuela—succeeding references will carry the correct spelling] who brought three blind men with him under the pretension that their eyes might be treated by the doctor. This was the man who brought the paper of the Katupunin [Katipunan] of Secret Society to Dr. Rizal, but he endeavored to persuade Pio Valenzuela from taking part in the rising and characterized the proposal to institute the rebellion as foolish, as the men had not arms nor ammunition. He sent Pio Valenzuela away next day without giving him any indication of support.
“DR. RIZAL LIBERATED.
“On 28th July 1896 Dr. Rizal’s liberty was sent from Manila, on condition that he should go to Cuba for medical service. They immediately left Dapitan by the Spanish mail España for Manila, leaving everything behind. On arrival in Manila harbour, a steam launch came alongside the steamer and a Spanish officer came aboard, and gave instructions that Dr. Rizal would be detained on board. Miss Taufer was allowed to go ashore half an hour afterward, and went to Dr. Rizal’s home in Manila. About ten o’clock at night a message was sent on shore from Dr. Rizal that his sweetheart might come on board. She immediately obeyed the summons, and when she met the doctor he told her he had sent for her to say goodbye, that he was going on board the Spanish Cruiser [illegible] which was to convey him to Spain. The Castilla remained for about a month in Manila harbour, during which time Dr. Rizal was closely watched by order of [illegible] Henrique [illegible] mtalo. Miss Tafer [illegible] and Rizal’s sister visited him [illegible] board the vessel. [illegible] the preparation of that period that cruiser sailed for Spain. From Singapore he wrote to Miss Taufer, and that was the last letter she received from him during his absence in Europe, although he stated when he returned to Manila that he had written from Barcelona. On arrival at Barcelona he was detained by the authorities who searched his baggage, where they found his masonry papers, which were tucked away with his pen-knives, razors [illegible]. The Authorities declared [illegible] chief of the Katipunan.”
(To be concluded on Friday)
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