Inquirer Visayas

Whatever happened to Josephine Bracken?



JOSEPHINE and Vicente: A photo of the newlywed Josephine Bracken-Abad and Vicente Abad in Hong Kong. Photo from

CEBU CITY—Most Filipinos are familiar with Jose Rizal’s life because the national hero wrote voluminously about himself and his activities.

And not only did Rizal himself assiduously keep his writings but his family and associates also kept his works, probably already aware that he would someday be revered as a great figure in Philippine history.

It is unfortunate, though, that not much is known about his “dulce extranjera (sweet stranger),” Josephine Bracken. Besides, their brief love affair in Dapitan and the Rizal family’s dislike for Josephine was a mere footnote after his death.

Since she was not accepted by the Rizals, she hurriedly left Manila three days after Rizal’s execution and went to Cavite, where she nursed wounded Katipuneros.

Life of poverty

After her stint in Cavite, probably out of pity, Rizal’s elder brother, Paciano, gave her some money for a return ticket to Hong Kong, her land of birth. Due to poverty, she later petitioned for her share of her husband’s library, which was under the care of Jose Maria Basa.

Although Basa was sympathetic to Josephine, he could not grant what she desired due to the opposition of the Rizals and the absence of proof that she was legally married to the national hero.

Macario Ofilada, in his work on Josephine Bracken, said the woman dropped her claim, realizing its impossibility.

Resigned to fate, Josephine would have been completely forgotten had she not married a Philippine-born Spanish citizen in Hong Kong—Vicente Abad from Cebu.

It was said that Julio Llorente, a Cebuano and friend of Rizal during their student days in Spain, introduced Abad to Josephine.

Llorente wrote the letter of introduction to Rizal when Josephine arrived in Dapitan to accompany her adoptive father, George Taufer, for treatment.


Being “kababayan” from Cebu, Abad must have been referred, too, by Llorente to Josephine to be her student in English. Abad, according to Ofilada, was in Hong Kong for business and needed to learn English. Having some facility in Spanish, Josephine thus became Abad’s English tutor.

Young and pretty, Abad easily fell for Josephine. After a brief courtship, the two got married in Hong Kong on Dec. 15, 1898. The new couple lived in Hong Kong for some months and came back to Manila in May 1899.

By the end of August or September 1899, the couple left Manila and settled in Cebu City. By then, the Americans had already placed the Cebu port area and its immediate environs under control while the rest of the city was still under the command of Cebuano insurgents.

Julio Llorente himself became Cebu governor under the Americans.

Due to the American presence, Cebu was exposed to the modern inventions of the time.

The late Cebuano writer DM Estabaya claimed that Vicente’s return to Cebu was fueled by his new venture—he was the first to open a store which sold or rented out bicycles. The Cebuanos caught the craze, which made the bicycle a hot item so that the business blossomed.

The Abad bicycle store was located on Magallanes and Burgos Streets, just a stone’s throw away from present-day Cebu City Hall and Basilica del Santo Niño.

While Abad was minding his bicycle store, Josephine also earned some money on the side. Their residence was not only a store but also doubled as a study center, where Josephine tutored some students.

To effect this, an advertisement was even placed in the newspaper El Pueblo in April 1900, which announced: “Josephine Bracken (sic) de Abad, Profesora de Lenguas living near Plaza Rizal, is giving lessons in English and German in her residence.”

It is said that the young Sergio Osmeña first learned to paddle a bike from Abad’s store and learned English at the same time from his wife, the former Josephine Bracken de Rizal.

At her second marriage, Josephine was said to have moved on and, according to Ofilada, “considered her life with the Rizals a thing of the past.”

Not much is known about her life while in Cebu but it must have been a happy one, being almost anonymous.

The Abads didn’t stay long in Cebu. They later returned to Hong Kong where Josephine died “poor and penniless” on March 15, 1902.

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  • Annie

    I think Josephine was a loyal lover to Rizal because she stayed with him until his death. What a sad ending to her to die poor and penniless in Hong Kong. Without her knowing, she is immortalized today in every Filipino’s heart who studied about Rizal’s life.

    • Ornbort Vortingeresdemesus

      hirao talaga pag pamilya. di naman makaintindi na di naman sila ang pinakasalan. they should have just been happy for Jose. 

    • Komen To

      A lovely German lady, indeed. I miss my German girlfriend Monika who resembles Josephine

      • Barak_O

        josephine was irish

      • Pitbulldog

        Di ba sabi nila si Barak daw ay Irish din.   Irish na ibinabad sa coal for 50 years…

      • Barak_O

        half irish

        half kenyan

  • boybakal

    A very interesting story. I hope there is what we call itutuloy or to be continued.
    Nice to read this kind of story, people of our history.
    Thank you.

    • Ornbort Vortingeresdemesus

      Yeah. Kung naging OK negosyo nila sa Cebu, bakit kaya naubusan ng pera at lumipat sa HK? Interesting thing for historians to discover. Maybe some journalist can cover this (hint hint).

      • tarikan

        Dumating na kasi ang Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki the harbinger of tricycles. 

      • Ornbort Vortingeresdemesus

        on that note, shows how lazy we are. we would rather drive smoke belching, noisy machines than clean, green, low cost, healthy bicycles. lalo na sa cebu…if cebu were a bicycle society like china or vietnam, it would be paradise talaga!

      • Ornbort Vortingeresdemesus

        Filipinos should learn to walk and bike distances of 10 km or less. It’s highly doable. 

  • dani77777

    Love our Philippine history. It is also romantic.

  • basilionisisa

    proves that the family Mercado (Rizal) was staunch Catholic regardless of how they were treated by the friars. they never recognized the outside-the-church marriage of Rizal and Josephine. good that she had strong will and street-smart disposition in life, else she would have never survived after the execution of Rizal.

    nice research, thanks.

  • Mabuhay

    “It is said that the young Sergio Osmeña first learned to paddle a bike from Abad’s store and learned English at the same time from his wife, the former Josephine Bracken de Rizal.”  
    (Dangling modifier, it is confusing if “his” refers to Sergio Osmena or Abad. In the sentence It appears that Josephine B. became the wife of Osmena. It is better to use “the latter’s wife” or “Abad’s wife”  instead of “his wife” 

    • tarikan

      Very correct observation, Mabuhay. 

    • baitcaster

      Not much chance for a typographical error here. The writer, or his re-writer or editor, did not catch this obvious error. This error cannot be ignored by many of us who, having studied English as a second language, are more vigilant in the way it is written.

  • James McTangay

    “It is said that the young Sergio Osmeña first learned to paddle a bike from Abad’s store

    PADDLE or PEDAL? A short pole with a broad blade at one or both ends, used without an oarlock to move a small boat or canoe through the water.An act of walking barefoot in shallow water.

    • Pitbulldog

      Brod, baka naman uso din noon ang banca na pinapatakbo habang nagpepedal di ba?  Baka naman nalito na talaga ang writer kung ano ba talaga ang na-Pidal ni Osmena. diyan siguro, baka si Osmena nagpepedal ng bangka don sa may dagat sa pagitan ng Mactan at Cebu City.  O baka naman gusto ng writer idamay sa istorya si Mike Arroyo dahil sa kape-Pidal na yan ni Osmena.  Pedal nga ba o Pidal?  kakalito

    • boybakal

      paddle – a blade of a paddle wheel or water wheel …means paddle a wheel.
      paddle can be used in a bike.
      pedal is where you put your feet to paddle. pedal is noun, paddle is verb.
      there is no grammar error, paddle can be used in a bike as you paddle your legs in a pedal.

      • James McTangay

        I beg to disagree on this. Paddle when use as a verb denotes the action of moving through water in a boat using a paddle or paddles.

        Paddle as defined in the English, not American,  dictionary  noun or verb, involves movement or activity related specifically  to fluid as mentioned in your first sentence. 

        Pedal on the other hand talks about objects activated by the feet. Hence I believe the writer must have used pedal not paddle.

        Thanks for the info.

    • baitcaster

      Probably a typographical error, absolutely should be “pedal” instead of “paddle.” Another word often used incorrectly with a bicycle, especially among English-speaking people, is “peddle,” which means to sell. I used to agonize over misuse of words in the language, but have gotten tolerant especially with the advent of texting, where the aim is to get the message across, using shortcuts and without any regard for spelling or grammar. Is this the future of writing? Could be. O cge na.

  • tra6Gpeche

    Josephine Bracken must have lived a very difficult life as a
    wife of Dr. Jose Rizal. The Rizal Family was against her and Dr. Rizal was
    always given trouble by the Spanish Friars. There was no peace for her and
    Rizal. It is good to know that she found happiness and serenity as the wife of Vicente
    Abad of Cebu. I would like to thank you for sharing with
    us the last few years of life of a beautiful lady, Josephine Bracken.

  • Komen To

    Editors needed for your online. Anyway, thanks for sharing his piece of our history. I just wonder if Hongkong that time belongs to China

    • Mike Henry French

       it already was a british colony that time.

    • Olibo

      Hong kong was turned over to China in 1997 after 150 years of  British rule. Still British when these affairs happened.

  • hanep

    Looks like chicboy  Jose  had  a thing  or two  for  blue – eyed  blondes.

    He must have  had loads of fun  during his European  sojourn.

  • Mike Henry French

    Was it known why Bracken died also young?

    • band1do

      I’d like to know too

    • filipinaskoh

      She had tuberculosis that caused her young death. She had a daughter born 1900 named Dolores from Vicente abad. 

      • boybakal

         Maybe Secretary Abad is a descendant.
        Who knows, Batanes is near Hongkong, pwedeng magpaddle.
        Isa pa mukhang intsik si Abad.
        Haka haka lang.

        Because per observation, yon mga nagiging leader ng ating bansa sa kasalukuyan, yon mga ninuno nila leader din.
        Ika nga nasa DNA o Dugo.

      • tarikan

        Sa genes nila Josephine malago ang buhok at hindi sila chekwa. So Sec. Butch Abad won’t qualify. 

  • dennis

    “It is unfortunate, though, that not much is known about his “dulce extranjera (sweet stranger),” Josephine Bracken. Besides, their brief love affair in Dapitan and the Rizal family’s dislike for Josephine was a mere footnote after his death.
    Since she was not accepted by the Rizals, she hurriedly left Manila three days after Rizal’s execution and went to Cavite, where she nursed wounded Katipuneros.”
    This is the defect of our culture! Yung pakikialam ng mga members of the family which lead to the downfall of every relationship of loving partner.Should Rizal´s life will not end in execution if both of them got married and rather live as a prosperous husband and wife?Rizal was executed 1898 and was born 1961,My point is “Isn´t it enough to consider that Rizal at that time was already a matured and dignified person whom who can decide by himself?” Let me say,Jose Rizal was being jailed in Dapitan most probably ( around1890-1898) and at the same time he was busy writing his 2 books “Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo”.Let me express something interesting at this part,Jose Rizal not only a very intelligent person but rather a “shy-type” one whom cannot express himself verbally,specially at the public.He just remain calm,quiet,but deep inside eh malalim ang ibig iparating.
    Now,let me get straight to the point in particular about the book he wrote “Noli me Tangere” meaning TOUCH ME NOT.My question is what does Jose Rizal in his mind when he wrote this book? Is he pointing about the “defect of our culture” as his personal reason why his relationship with Josephine Bracken didn´t work out? Or does the book Noli me Tangere really pointing against Spaniard sending message to them “Touch me not?”

    • Pitbulldog

      We are a people bound by close family ties.  Matriarchial pa nga, in such a way as we mostly revere our mothers even more than we do the father.  Meddling or influencing decisions over marital concerns could work both ways.  A highly educated person like Rizal would be wise enough to know where his happiness truly lies.  Baka naman like his other romantic adventures, Josephine is just a passing fancy.  Serious and luscious enought to satisfy the hunger of a man in a land far, far away….

    • vinzerx

      Pretty obvious that Bracken wasn’t really Rizal’s preference for a long-term relationship, otherwise he would have married her and he won’t refer to her as just a sweet stranger (emphasis on stranger). They had a convenient relationship in Dapitan – Rizal appreciated the company and someone doing household work (he said as much in his letters to his mom and sisters), and Josephine was able to forge a better life for herself here compared to her sad existence in Hong Kong.

      It could have eventually blossomed into something long-term later on had Rizal not been executed, but at least at the time of his death, Bracken for him wasn’t the wife he’d have wanted. In this case, Rizal’s family had reason to not let Bracken in their lives (and whatever fortune Rizal left behind in the form of books and such).

      Reading a family meddling backlash into “Noli Me Tangere” is, honestly, pretty forced. Rizal’s insistence for representation in the Spanish courts is unquestionable at this point and at this time, he has seen how the Spaniards have harassed his family, especially his mother. These two things factor so much greater into his writing the novel than a plea for his mom to stop meddling between him and Bracken.

  • $14523613

    If celfons with cams are already invented during Rizal’s time, it is not a farfetched assumption that Rizal’ might have a sex video scandal.

  • arao_liwanag

    Puro lang pambabae ang inatupag ni Jose. Binaril siya ,hindi dahil siya ay revolusyonaryo, kundi Mason na noong panahon matindi ang ayaw nila sa Roman Catholic. Sa tingin ng mga Frayle, si Rizal ay nagtaksil sa Roman Cafholic. He cannot be forgiven.

  • Melvin

    And later on she was called Josephine Broken… Joke Only…

  • boybakal

    Poor women, poor women of Rizal.
    Rizal was not a good boyfriend and not a good son. Imagine, Rizal studied and studied here and abroad. Hanggang sa maubos ang ari arian nila.
    Lahat ng kurso, kinuha pero di ginamit sa trabaho para mabawi ang ginastos ng magulang.
    Even Josephine Bracken was left penniless and broke.
    Rizal is a typical filipino, not a good provider.

    Just curious, di kaya si Pilita Corrales o Pilar Pilapil descendants ni Josephine Bracken…may hawig, mestisa, parehong Bisaya, Cebuana.
    For sure, di kadugo si Annabel Rama dahil si Josephine Bracken mukhang tahimik, si Annabel dalahira at bungangera.

    • Mamang Pulis

      loco! jajaja

    • tarikan

      Si Joey Rizal playboy kuno pero baog o di kaya bading? Cover lang nya ang pagiging chickboy? Genius kuno pero wala man laang naimbento kahit gamot sa muta. Pangbababae ang iantupag wala namang anak na maipakita. Para yung isa diyan sa Malacanan (g).

      • jurbinsky77

        Dahan-dahan kayo nang pambabastos sa Dakilang Bayani. Maging ang mga Malaysian hold Dr. Rizal with the highest regard.

        Romance during those times were different than what the present generation know.

        Hindi salaula si Dr Rizal. Dahil sa kanyang talino at pambihirang mga katangian, madaling mapamahal siya sa mga babae. Siguro ang nasa isip mo ay sexual escapades, wala iyan. Puro kasi kayo kalibugan.

        Bastos ka ngayon, makaka-asa kang basbastosin ka rin.

      • tarikan

        Bastos or not, do my comments hold water? Answer me, come on answer me! I think some accounts on DOCTOR Jose M(ercado), P(rotacio), R(ealonda), B(racken), R(ivera), Rizal’s life adventures were exaggerated. Like he could make out his initials through pistol shooting and his expertise in fencing, etc. He could have won our first and only gold medal in Olympics had he entered the tournament. Di ba, di ba?

    • jurbinsky77

      Please post the books with records of Dr Jose Rizal’s negative traits. Probably the Rizal that you mention is not the Rizal that I studied for many years in school.

      • vinzerx

        boybakal’s statements were borne out of simple analysis of Rizal’s actions, stuff they won’t ever teach you in school because you’re supposed to buy his heroism lock, stock, and barrel. It’s unfortunate that you failed to learn things like making self-analysis because that’s actually what schools should impart knowledge of, how to make people think and not just buy whatever’s in the book. Without unconventional thinking, we’d still be thinking that everything revolves around the earth and that we’ll fall off the edges of the earth.

      • baitcaster

        Are you suggesting that this guy is an expert on Rizal? Has he studied Rizal in depth? Has he published recognized works on the life of Rizal, aside from his “simple analysis” that are just casual opinions he wants other people to believe.

      • jurbinsky77

        “Simple analysis of Rizal’s actions”.. What were those of Dr. Rizal’s actions that you have done simple analysis?

        And what “self-analysis” I should have learned before reading books? (self-analysis, is it a pre-requisite now in the Philippines?)

        Usually in Philippine history, the authors I remember reading were Zaide, Agoncillo, etc.

    • baitcaster

      Is the typical Filipino not a good provider? You really like to generalize. In other postings you have described Filipinos as ugly and morons.

  • blowcoldblowhot

    Nothing was mentioned if they have a child or children.

  • Alfredo

    Mother Spain….Touch Me Not….My Man…Dr. JOSE RIZAL….His PEN….Ends 300 years of Convent…..But are we????

  • Galil

    bracken is very unfortunate with rizal and his family.I read one book where rizal have hit her while they are living  in exile here in the philippines.

    She should have the rights to rizal properties in dapitan.

  • Benito Chung

    anyone who knows where her exact grave site is?  Some say she was buried in Happy Valley Cemetery in Hong Kong – but where exactly? Her mom Elizabeth Bracken is buried there as evidenced by a marked grave stone. 

  • boybakal

    Malas naman ni Josephine Bracken.
    Maganda, mestisa, German ang naging Boyfriend Filipino. Alam mo naman ang Pilipino, magaling sa bola at bisti.

    Kung Intsik ang naging boyfriend o asawa segurado naging Milyonaria siya sa Hongkong at di pulubi as alleged.

  • Dieserweg

    May mga Rizal pa ba ngayon?  Bakit parang ala na ako naririnig na may ganong apelyido?

  • jurbinsky77

    Sana sa mga ganitong diskusyon, iwasan natin ang mga malalaswang salita. Kung ang national hero ay binabastos ng mga Filipino, hindi tayo makakaasa ng paggalang sa mga ibang lahi. Mga corrupt na, mga bastos pa!

    There are conflicting accounts on Josephine Bracken. An English professor once asked if Dr Jose Rizal had any mistakes in his lifetime. I suggested that he married a foreigner. In one history books that I read, Josephine was a paramour of her foster father who became blind and sought treatment in the Philippines. Probably, Dr Rizal was widely-known after he operated on his mother’s failing eyesight. That was the occasion when Josephine met him. Dr. Rizal was enamored with Josephine at first sight. The foster father was so enraged that he went back to Hong Kong without having treatment.

    Dr. Rizal was happy for a period, enervated to be able to design Dapitan’s waterworks distribution system and in his playful mode, managed to scare the wits out of the pregnant Josephine that caused her miscarriage.

    After Dr. Rizal was murdered, Josephine stayed for a while and joined the Revolution. Shortly, she went back to Hong Kong but the foster father has passed away already. She worked as part-time prostitute and contacted TB. She died miserable and penniless.

    • vinzerx

      Sabi nga ng “Bayaning 3rd World”, kanya-kanyang Rizal. Kung gusto mo siyang tanggapin as national hero, nasa sa iyo yun. Para sa ibang tao, iba ang national hero nila, so wag mong ipilit yung gusto mo.

  • jurbinsky77

    Punong-puno  ng kabastosan mga mga kabataang Filipino. Ikinararangal ba kayo ng mga magulang ninyo?

    Lahing kurap, lahing bastos!

    • vinzerx

      “Lahing kurap, lahing bastos”? E di ikaw rin yun, pati yung Pilipino na hindi na kabataan. Kasi kung nasa lahi pala ang pagiging “kurap” at “bastos”, kasama ka rin dun. Hahahaha. Tinira ang sarili. Bravo!

  • vinzerx

    So was there really a marriage between Bracken and Rizal? The article assumes that there was one, referring to Bracken as “Josephine Bracken de Rizal” and referring to her marriage with Abad as her second one.

  • jurbinsky77

    I am shocked seeing how many Filipinos of this generation really hate Rizal.

    Some of them are too particular about “marriage”, which was not possible because of Dr. Rizal’s relationship with the Catholic Church. Hence, it was mentioned in some accounts that the union between him and Josephine Bracken was not a traditional church-sanctioned one. 

  • renata

    it’s weird how many of the commentators are illiterate & wander off tangent from the subject,  so typically pinoy.  the authorities on JR’s love-life are our own ambeth ocampo & the late british writer austin coates who wrote a biography of the hero.  the latter concluded from archives in HK where he lived & wrote that JB was the child of an irish seaman & a chinese woman in one of the “flower-boat” sampans which european men patronized.  
    i myself scoured the happy valley cemetery to try & locate her grave but found nothing—coates surmised she’d died during a plague and was buried in a pauper’s grave among other victims.  though the abad family descendants have whitewashed their relative’s life (the revisionist book by hofilada), vicente was a black sheep of his manila family who’d been sent to “exile” to HK; he hooked up with JB since her former lover was wellknown.  why she returned to HK where she died is open to conjecture — obviously abad was unable to support her. 
    coates concluded that the romanticized stories about JB having helped the revolutionaries in cavite are apochryphal.  none of the “facts” about her life in cebu have been corroborated.

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