Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Remembering the Unhappy Josephine Bracken

Rizal's Wandering Swallow, Josephine Bracken
One of the most misunderstood women in Philippine history is Josephine Bracken, otherwise known as Mrs. Jose Rizal. The National Hero himself referred to her as his dulce extranjera and Errante Golondrina (the wandering swallow). Her role in Rizal’s life was not always the romantic ideal that we would have wanted for our greatest hero. Some writers and historians have tried to paint her in the most unflattering of ways. Several have alleged that she was an illegitimate daughter of an Irishman in Hong Kong and a Chinese woman and that her relationship with her step-father, George Taufer, was more than father and daughter. It does not help that even among the educated and respected writers politicians, such as Austin Coates who claimed in his 1968 biography of Rizal that Josephine was illegitimate and of mixed race, and the late Sen. Raul Roco who implied in a keynote lecture at a National Conference in Cebu City that Josephine was a bar girl whose relationship with her foster father was probably far from innocent!

Naturally, much if not all of these allegations is untrue. In the book The Philippines and Round About, With Some Account of British Interests in These Waters by Sir George John Younghusband of the British-Indian army, she was described as "the daughter of a sergeant in the British service, an Irishman who, when his term of service had expired, had settled down at Hong Kong. Miss Bracken was born at the Victoria Barracks, Hong Kong, and her mother dying soon afterwards, she was adopted by a kind couple named Tauffner, who took her to Manila with them and reared and educated her."

In Austin Craig's Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal: Philippine Patriot, Josephine is introduced to the readers through her step-father, George Taufer: "he and his wife, a Portuguese, had adopted and brought up as their own the infant daughter of a poor Irish woman who had died in Hong Kong, leaving a considerable family to her husband, a corporal in the British Army on service there."

These books are two of the earliest references we have of Josephine Bracken, and though no names of her parents are mentioned here these validate Josephine Bracken’s own short autobiography where she stated:

Rizal's carving of Bracken
“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 until her burial.  As my father is a military he could not attend to all of us especially for me being so very small he gave me to a family 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.”

Of course, some historians have also cautioned us that this supposed autobiography of Josephine is nothing but a forgery, though the source was most likely Josephine or even her father.

At any rate, the whole point of this article is not the Irish roots of Josephine Bracken, which has already been superbly discussed in another blog under the title The Story of Josephine Bracken andthe Proof of her full Irish Origins.

Josephine remarried to Vicente Abad after becoming a widow. Though many Abads of Cebu claim Vicente as an Abad of Barili, Cebu, existing records show otherwise. This particular Abad family was of creole origin, unlike that of the Barili Abads who were, by the time of Josephine’s and Vicente’s marriage, already classified under the indio racial category. Because the surname is pretty common in the Spanish peninsula and there is also no conclusive documentation proving that the Abad last name of Barili is not from the Claveria decree, at this point Vicente Abad has to be considered as not related to the Abads of Barili, Cebu.

Vicente Abad was the third son and fourth child of Vicente Abad and Maximina Recio. Because records consistently describe the children of Vicente Sr. and Maximina as creoles or mestizos and Vicente Sr. as a Spaniard, then it is logical to assume that Maximina was an india or a mestiza herself.

Vicente Abad, Sr. was hired by the Spanish colonial government to oversee the tobacco industry of the colony, being considered as one of the foremost experts in the tobacco industry. In 1885 he was named chief technical adviser for the Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas, a position he held until the Philippine Revolution when he decided to return to his country of origin, eventually dying in Zaragoza, Spain, in 1900.

Vicente’s eldest child, Clodoaldo Abad y Recio, was born in Cebu on September 7, 1865. He graduated with a medical degree from the University if Santo Tomas in 1890. He distinguished himself in the medical field and served in various government posts during and after the Spanish regime in the Philippines. Clodoaldo was followed by the only girl in the family, Victoria, who was born in 1868. Then she was followed by Jose Mario Abad y Recio, who was born in Loon, Bohol, on January 19, 1871. He obtained a BA in Pharmacy in 1892 from the University of Santo Tomas and, like his older brother, also distinguished himself in his chosen field.

The youngest in the family was Vicente Abad, Jr. who was born in Cebu in 1876 and obtained his degree in Pharmacy in 1896. He was an agent of the Tabacalera Company, just like his father, in Hong Kong, and it was there where he met Josephine Bracken later married her on September 15, 1898.

Their marriage produced one child, Maria Dolores Bracken Abad, born on April 17, 1900. But even this birth was shrouded in controversy. Early articles written about Bracken's only surviving child were also full of questions, with some alleging that due to her very Filipina visage she was probably not Abad's child but probably Rizal's. However, considering Rizal died in 1896 and Dolores was not born until 1900, these speculations were simply nothing but speculations and laziness on the part of the researchers to actually check primary records. Even the simple checking of the dates would have saved these so-called historians from speculating nonsense.

Whatever the case, Dolores B. Abad married an Ilokano, Salvador Mina, son of Juan Mina and Isabel Lamadrid, on April 4, 1926, in Manila. Her marriage record clearly indicated Josephine Bracken and Vicente Abad as her parents. From this marriage, 2 sons and 2 daughters were born. One of Dolores’s grandsons, Macario Ofilada Mina, wrote Errante Golondrina, an honest and well-researched biography of Josephine Bracken.

An incomplete family tree of Josephine Bracken (click to enlarge)
In one review of Errante Golondrina, the reviewer wrote: “The Rizal family, and others, roughly elbowed Jose's 'poor Josephine' aside in an indecent haste to grab whatever was left of his estate. And therein lay, in some ways, an even greater tragedy. In Rizal, among the noblest men of his, or any other race, Josephine had seen the face of what the Filipino could be. In the actions of Rizal's family and others she saw the Filipino unmasked, as they actually were, not Rizal's Filipino. (Filipinos) are not what I thought them to be, I took them to be like my husband, but I see that I am deceived,” wrote an embittered Josephine from Hong Kong. Rizal's name and his books have been quoted repeatedly since his death, his story is known to every schoolchild, yet the country of Rizal's imagination is as unborn as the child he and Josephine almost had. In their story is the sad story of the Philippines.”

Indeed, what a sad life Josephine Bracken lived. Today, as the country celebrates Rizal’s martyrdom, let us also remember the life of the woman who remained by his side until his death. Josephine Bracken’s life was sad from the very beginning. In Rizal’s company she finally found some happiness, only to be cut short by Rizal’s death. Her story and Rizal's indeed is a sad story of the Philippines.

Click here to view Josephine's family tree.


  1. George John Younghusband. The Philippines and Roundabout, with some Account of British Interests in these Waters, London: Macmillan, 1899.
  2. Augusto de Viana. A Glimpse into the Life of Josephine Bracken, April 10, 2013.
  3. 1911 Ireland Census, National Archives of Ireland, accessed December 28, 2014
  4. Austin Craig. Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal: Philippine Patriot, Austin Craig
  5. Erlinda K. Alburo. "La Dulce Estranjera", SUMAD: Essays for the Centennial of the Revolution, Cebu, 1999.
  6. The story of Josephine Bracken and the Proof of her Full Irish Origins.
  7. Gene Cabrera. Josephine Bracken: Her Struggles and Her Last Days, July 2, 2011
  8. The Life and Times of Josephine Bracken, November 12, 2003
  9. Various records accessed from FamilySearch (marriage record of James Bracken and Elizabeth Jane McBride, marriage record of Maria Dolores Abad and Salvador Mina, baptismal record of Charles Breakin (Bracken), death record of Victoria Abad y Recio).
  10. Manuel Artigas y Cuerva. Galeria de Filipinos Ilustres: Biografias a Contar Desde las Primeros Tiempos de la Dominacion Hispana, de los Hijos del Pais que en sus Respectivas Profesiones Descollaron ơ Hayan Alcanzado alguń Puesto de Distinción en Sociedad, Manila: Imp. Casa Editora "Renacimiento", 1917-1918.
  11. Macario Ofilada. Errante Golondrina: The Life and Times of Josephine Bracken. Manila: New Day Publishers, 2003.


  1. My wife's mother's family has some Abad ancestors her oldest Abad Ancestor is Mariano Abad married to Inocencia Ascarraga. There is the Bicol Region of Albay.

  2. The claveria decree was in 1849. But the earliest known abad from our line, torribio abad was born in 1815.