Ruby Roberts - the lady billiards champion

Ruby Roberts

The Lady Billiards Champion

Diary of my travels abroad 1910-1911 (12)
Ruby Roberts, the lady billiards champion - Diary Entry 12

Neither she (Miss Collins), nor even Madame Strebor, is in the same class as a player as that now held by Miss Roberts, and the question seems to be: Where is Miss Roberts’s vogue as a lady billiardist to lie? - Club Form by a Lady Player, The Billiard Monthly : October, 1911 – EABA. Available at:

Dec 8. I practised all the morning and after Tiffin, we all went out to the Sea View Hotel, it is about 6 miles out, passed through several native villages. We crossed a river and I shall never forget the sight of hundreds of Malay huts built on long poles right over the water with a platform running from one to the other. The huts looked as if they were made of dried leaves with very small windows (no glass) and some had brilliant coloured curtains. It was a real tropical scene with the tall palm trees in the background. We passed a native cemetery, it was on a hill and the graves seemed to be buried in the hillside with slabs laid flat. From a distance you would not know that it was a cemetery. From the terminus we went by rickshaw through a cocoanut plantation to the hotel.

Malay village Pulo Brani Singapore via New York Public Library
Malay village Pulo Brani Singapore via New York Public Library

Of course, I had to have a look at the billiard room. We had tea on the verandah facing the sea. It is a beautiful hotel with well laid out gardens. There is a jetty in front of the hotel with a number of small craft. I would have liked to have gone out in one but we did not have time, so we wandered round the grounds and came home in rickshaws in the cool of the evening. After dinner we played bridge and went to bed early for a change. We had had very late nights but found out that most people stayed up until 2 or 3am as that was the coolest part of the night and usually it was too hot to sleep. We often went for a drive at midnight and used to enjoy the cool air and the scents of the spices and cinnamon in the air. I found that dinner in the East was quite a function. Everyone wears evening dress and usually a band plays through dinner which is from 8.30 to 9.30pm. Needless to say my matches never commenced before 10pm. The life was very different to what I had been accustomed to but I loved it. It was all so novel.

Coconut Drive Singapore via New York Public Library
Coconut Drive Singapore via New York Public Library

(Dec 10) Practised all the morning and during the afternoon we went for a rickshaw ride, I forget the name of the place, I think it was some residential suburb. The roads were so beautiful with trees on either side meeting overhead which made it lovely and shady, so we left the rickshaws and went for a walk. We passed several natives and they stared as I believed no Europeans walk about during the day. Returned to our hotel and rested before dinner as I had to play that night, won my match very easily.

(Dec 11) I was up very early and after breakfast finished my packing. I had a busy morning writing letters and helping Mrs R to finish her packing, also I had to make enquiries about what time our ship sailed etc. Mr R had left the previous day for Malacca so I had to look after our luggage besides Mr and Mrs R’s who had twenty pieces of baggage. I had to see that they were all put on the tender so eventually we embarked on the SS Ipoh with all our bits and pieces. I saw Captain Olsen and he secured us two nice deck cabins. They have a funny way of doing things in these coasting boats. You do not have to go to an office beforehand and book your passage. The Captain is usually on deck and you tell him your name, state where you want to go to, pay him your passage money (an officer stands by and writes down all particulars) then he calls a boy, tells him the number of your cabin to which he takes you and it is his duty to see that your luggage is placed in your cabin. After a while the officer returns and writes your name on a card on the door of your cabin.

The “boys” on these boats are Chinese and they dress all in white with black velvet slippers and they are very attentive. I had travelled on the “Ipoh” before so Captain Olsen put us at his table. I always found a deal of interest watching the native passengers. They are herded together on a lower deck away from our part of the ship. I used to stand on our deck and look down on them. Most of the natives brought a little mat and cushion. They would put them down on the deck with their belongings all round them and go to sleep. One old Chinese I noticed was smoking his opium pipe. That was the first and only time I saw anyone smoking opium. We were rather early on board as our sailing time was 3.30pm, so we passed the time watching the “boys” diving for money. They come out to the ship in funny little canoes and they call out for you to throw coppers into the water, then they dive and when they come to the surface, they have the money in their mouth. We were very amused at one old chap (he had white hair). One of the passengers threw an old top hat into the water and there was a wild scramble for it. Well, the old “boy” got it and wasn’t he delighted. He put it on his head and swam round, sometimes it would float away and he would go after it. Then when we threw money into the water, he would dive leaving the topee floating on the water and on coming to the top he would go after it again. I learnt afterwards that natives are very keen on umbrellas and hats. We were kept amused until the ship sailed at 3.30pm. It was a beautiful sight going down the harbour and through the heads. We spent the afternoon on deck reading, had dinner at 7.30pm and sat on deck until bed time.

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