Dora Philby: 

The Azelia Ley Homestead Museum holds a collection of photographs from the Manning family. Amongst them are several of a mysterious, well-dressed young woman, dated around 1910. Her name was Dora Philby. She was a sister-in-law to Cockburn’s illustrious Manning family, and mother of Kim Philby, the notorious English double-agent who defected to the USSR.

Early life

Dora Philby was born Dora Johnston in Lahore, India, in 1888. Her sister Verna was born in 1890. Both girls grew up in a world of privilege and power. Their father was a civil engineer who had built a successful life in India, where he worked for the Public Works Department in Rawalpindi, now part of Pakistan. The girls grew to adulthood expecting to marry well.

Victor Manning

Dora Philby dressed for tennis and holding a racket, c1910

Dora Philby (nee Johnston) dressed for tennis, c1910, probably India.

Victor Manning, born at Davilak and educated in England, travelled to India with the 12th Royal Lancers as a young soldier. It was here that he met Verna Johnston. They were married in December 1909, and after a honeymoon in Hyderabad they travelled to Victor’s home in Western Australia, where they spent time at Davilak.

Wedding party of Victor Manning and Verna Johnston under a marquee in India, 1909

Wedding of Victor Manning and Verna Johnston in Lahore, India, December 1909. Dora Philby (nee Johnston) was bridesmaid.

Dora’s marriage

Dora was Verna’s bridesmaid in 1909, and was married herself less than a year later in September 1910, to Harold St John Bridger Philby. Their wedding was in Murree, Bengal, and they spent many years travelling through the British Empire. While in the Punjab province, their only son was born: Harold “Kim” Philby, who would go on to become an infamous double agent in twentieth-century Britain.

Mannings in WA

Victor and Verna spent time at Davilak, though Verna’s main residence was in Claremont and Victor divided his time between Claremont and his cattle station at Mingenew.

Origin of the photographs

Did Dora Johnston travel back with her sister for a visit? Of the ten photographs of Dora that the museum holds, it is not obvious that any were taken at Davilak. It seems more likely that these are Manning family photographs, collected and 

Dora Philby and Verna Manning seated on the ground, c1909

Dora Philby and Verna Manning, the Johnston sisters, c1909

kept by Verna to remind her of a life now far distant. The photographs were part of the large Manning family donation to the Azelia Ley Museum.

View the Dora Philby photographs here. For more about Dora’s wayward son, read Ben Macintyre’s A spy among friends: Kim Philby’s great betrayal.

Dora Philby in a long dress in the forest, back view, c1910
Dora Philby in a long dress in the forest, front view, c1910