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Rizal's Mother-In-Law Gets Memorial Gravestone 145 Years After Her Death

Elizabeth Jane McBride Bracken had been buried in an unmarked grave since 1876.
IMAGE FACEBOOK/RISKY RUEDA SADIOSA
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The story of Jose Rizal’s relationship with Josephine Bracken is well-known and oft-told. Bracken lived with Rizal when he was exiled to Dapitan and, according to some accounts, the couple got married the night before Rizal’s execution.

Bracken herself was born in Hong Kong to James Bracken, a corporal in the British Army, and Elizabeth Jane McBride Bracken, both of whom are of Irish descent. 

What is not well-known is how Elizabeth Bracken was buried in an unmarked grave at the Happy Valley Cemetery in Hong Kong after she passed away on November 9, 1876. But historians and researchers were able to discover her final resting place and, consequently, a memorial gravestone has been erected in her honor, nearly 150 years since her passing.  

According to a Facebook post by Ricky Rueda Sadiosa, a Hong Kong-based Rizal scholar and China area regional commander of the Knights of Rizal, Elizabeth Bracken’s unmarked grave was inscribed by the number 4258 and located at Section 41 of the cemetery, which was formerly known as the Hong Kong Colonial Cemetery. It was Sadiosa’s research, with the help of Mick Bourke, who is based in Ireland, that led to the whereabouts of Elizabeth’s grave.

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Bourke had actually discovered Elizabeth’s tomb number a decade early and passed the information along to Sadiosa, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. Sadiosa was able to locate the unnamed gravesite’s exact location after confirming some family details with the wife of a direct Bracken descendant. 

“The story of Elizabeth or her tomb may not be significant in Philippine history, but it’s a good starting point for researchers and history buffs like me to really begin doing our own research to try and tell these tales, this time from our point of view,” Sadiosa told SCMP. 

“Perhaps the restoration of Elizabeth’s tomb is one way for Filipinos to give appreciation to the Bracken family for their support to national hero Dr Rizal during his time fighting for reforms and freedom for the country against Spain,” he added.

Sadiosa also addressed speculation about the whereabouts of the tomb of Josephine Bracken herself. Josephine returned to Hong Kong soon after she joined revolutionary forces against Spain. In the territory, she married Vicente Abad and gave birth to a daughter named Dolores. She was struck by tuberculosis and died on March 14, 1902 and was buried also at Happy Valley Cemetery. She was 25 years old. 

According to Sadiosa, it’s possible that Josephine was buried in the same tomb as her mother.

“All who died of tuberculosis in the former British colony had to be buried the next day in unmarked communal graves (due to a lingering plague in Hong Kong at that time),” Sadiosa says. “However, as there would not have been time to arrange for a new grave, the relatives would have arranged with the gravedigger to bury Josephine on the same grave as her mother's whose stone block is unmarked (one should be aware of the Filipino burial customs of burying dead family members together on the same grave is still the norm to this day). This is, perhaps, the reason why Josephine’s grave cannot be found today.”

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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