Ruby Roberts - the lady billiards champion

Ruby Roberts

The Lady Billiards Champion

Diary of my travels abroad 1910-1911 (2)
Ruby Roberts, the lady billiards champion - Diary Entry 2

Miss Roberts is a niece of Charles Memmott, the present Austral-asian champion, and is a model as regards style. - (1907). The Lone hand Retrieved November 27, 2023, from

We arrived in Colombo on Oct 12th at 11am. I shall never forget my first impressions of Colombo going into the harbour. It was frightfully hot, but what a sight, to see all the natives in their catamarans (small native boats) waiting to come on board. The ship anchored out in the harbour, so the natives came out in their little boats laden with all kinds of things to sell.

Colombo Harbour 1910, source:
Colombo Harbour 1910 via

The noise is deafening as one tries to outdo the other in calling your attention to his wares. They are not allowed on board so we were very interested leaning over the side of the ship watching them. If a passenger should buy anything they have a basket tied to a piece of string. They throw the string up for you to catch then put the articles in the basket and you haul it up, put the money in the basket and lower it again to them. Of course it was my first experience and I didn’t know that you never paid them what they asked for, but only a third of the amount. The natives are very picturesque as they wear only a loincloth, and their bodies are dark chocolate brown and very shiny. We left the ship and said goodbye to our shipmates. A tender comes alongside the ship and you have to climb down the gangway to the tender which is moored at the bottom.

Arrived at the jetty we had some difficulty with our luggage. We had to have it passed by the customs and they wanted to charge me duty for my cue case. I had quite a heated argument over it until Mr Roberts came to my rescue. At last we got through the customs and directly outside, we were swarmed with “rickshaw wallers” wanting to drive us to our hotel. The noise was dreadful and confusing. Mr Roberts put us in the rickshaw and told the waller to take us to the Bristol Hotel. It is in the main street amongst all the shops or bazaars as they are called here. It is a very nice hotel. We had to pay 7 rupees a day which we thought was rather high but expenses are heavy in the East. Mr Roberts’ son and nephew Charlie Limb were staying at the Bristol, so they were company for us (Mr and Mrs Roberts went to the Galle Face Hotel which is the best hotel).

Bristol Hotel Colombo 1920 via
Bristol Hotel Colombo 1920 via
Galle Face Hotel Colombo 1910 via
Galle Face Hotel Colombo 1910 via

We had “Tiffin” (lunch) with them then rested during the afternoon as it was too hot to go out. After dinner all our shipmates came to see us and we sat in the lounge drinking iced squash through straws while the natives brought their goods and laid them out before us and tried to tempt us to buy. They have wonderful patience and will not take no. Next morning we met our shipmates and we all went for a ride round the town in “rickshaws” then our friends came back to the hotel and had “Tiffin” with us. Afterwards we went and had a look at the “bazaars” which fascinated me.

As the ship sailed at 4pm we went to the jetty to see our shipmates off and we felt very lonely. We had become so attached to “China” that we felt we were losing a friend and candidly I was feeling a bit scared as I would soon have to give my first exhibition match abroad. We went back to the hotel and dressed for dinner. Mr and Mrs Roberts called for us after dinner and took us to “Fillips Circus” a very good show and we spent a very enjoyable evening.

Oct 14th Mr Roberts called directly after breakfast while I was practicing and told me to pack as he wanted us to stay at the Galle Face Hotel. It is a marvellous hotel situated about a mile out of the city at the end of the esplanade so is much cooler than the Bristol. It faces the sea and at night it is very beautiful. The palm trees surrounding the hotel are illuminated with coloured lights and the phosphorescent waves are a picture. We liked going for a walk along the esplanade after dinner. Mr Peter the manager of the hotel was most kind and said I could practice every morning in the billiard room which was a very fine room.

The Shore near Colombo, source: Australian War Memorial
The Shore near Colombo via Australian War Memorial

Our first night at the hotel while dressing for dinner I saw such funny-looking little lizards on the wall and on top of the mosquito net over the bed (by the way all the beds have nets over them for the mosquitoes are very bad). I didn’t like the look of the lizards and knew I would not sleep if they were in the room all night so I rang for the “boy” (all the servants are called boy). I told him to kill them; he looked amazed and said “they no hurt Missy,” and went out of the room so Mum said she would kill them. Armed with a shoe she stood on the chair and was about to hit it but it looked at her with its protruding eyes and she got such a fright that she dropped the shoe, got down and decided to leave the thing alone. We discovered afterwards that they are harmless little things and in fact do quite a lot of good as they catch the mosquitoes. I am becoming quite used to them. They really are interesting to watch. They keep quite motionless on the wall or ceiling (they seem to be able to stick to anything) and then you hear a noise like “plop” and you know he has caught a mosquito or fly.

It was very strange for us at first to have native “boys” wait on us but we are getting used to it. They bring a tray with bread and butter, a cup of tea and a banana (which is called “Chota Hazri, little breakfast”) into your room every morning at 7am and put it on a table at the side of your bed. If you don’t eat it immediately the crows will come in the window and pinch the bread and butter also. We have been warned not to leave any jewellery on the dressing table near the window as they will carry off anything that glitters.

Sri Lankan Crow, source: Wikimedia Commons
Sri Lankan Crow via Wikimedia Commons

I learnt this too late as one morning while I lay in bed a crow flew in the window and before I could do anything carried off a brooch that my uncle had given me before leaving Australia. I was furious but it taught me a lesson. The crows are very bad in Colombo and the noise they make in the trees is sometimes deafening but I believe they are very useful they are called the scavengers as they eat a lot of refuse.

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