Ruby Roberts - the lady billiards champion

Ruby Roberts

The Lady Billiards Champion

Diary of my travels abroad 1910-1911 (23)
Ruby Roberts, the lady billiards champion - Diary Entry 23

Miss Roberts has some thing more than a graceful figure to recommend her. One could not help thinking as one gazed at the clear complexion, the ruby lips, and the shining eyes, what a contrast this ensemble would make to the vivid green of the billiard table cloth. - MY LADY CUEIST (1914, July 28). The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1955), p. 7 (THIRD EDITION). Retrieved January 11, 2024, from

Madras city and harbor in the 1910s
Madras city and harbor in the 1910s via Wikimedia Commons

Jan 24. Arrived at Madras at 6am. The doctor came on board at 8am and we all had to appear in the lounge for examination. We were told to put out our tongues and he felt our pulse. Then he gave us our plague passport and we were dismissed. There were a number of Chantey’s (native money lenders) on board. Mrs Reid called them bloodsuckers. They were very rich but of course, they were not allowed to mix with the white people on board. Mr William Roberts (J R’s son) and his wife came out in a sampan to meet us but it was very late before we were able to leave the ship. Madras is the worst place I have been to for landing. No coolies are allowed on board to help with the luggage so we had to manage the best way we could. Mr William and Sambo managed between them.

Mount Road Madras 1908 via Wikimedia Commons
Mount Road Madras 1908 via Wikimedia Commons

Then as usual our ship was anchored out in the harbour and we had to go to the wharf by tender. Mr William had a carriage waiting at the jetty for us and we drove to the Castle Hotel where we were to stay. We had breakfast and meanwhile William brought our letters over to the hotel for us. We were very anxious to hear from home and we had quite a big mail as they had been collecting for some time. We had a siesta after Tiffin and re-read our letters. At 5pm we went across to J R’s billiard show rooms. They were situated in Mount Rd and Mr William was manager while Charlie Lumb was manager of the Karachi branch. William had had a special table erected in the hall for our matches so I had some practice then returned to the hotel for dinner and as we were very tired we retired early.

(Jan 25) We were up early and went for a walk round the grounds of the hotel. It was a very old building and built just like a castle with a flat roof from where we got a wonderful view. It had once been a Maharajah’s palace and all the rooms were made into suites. I was told that the part of the building we were in had been part of the Harem. Each suite of rooms consisted of bedroom, sitting room and bathroom, the latter being the usual zinc lined floor with the big jar and Sambo had to bring in a tin bath every morning and night, it being so hot that two baths daily are quite necessary.

While on the subjects of baths I forgot to mention one funny incident that occurred to us when we visited a very primitive little town and had to stay at a rest house there being no hotel in the place. Mum wanted to have a bath (this happened before we got Sambo), so I told the “boy” and as usual, he brought the tin bath with big jug of warm water. I have mentioned before that the idea is to wash yourself and afterwards take a dipper which is always in the room, fill it with cold water from the big jar and pour it over yourself to act as a shower. Well imagine, Mum’s horror when after having her bath, she heard a voice from the roof say Mem Sahib ready for water. When she looked up to see where the voice was coming from, to her horror, she saw a hole in the roof and a black face looking at her and holding the dipper, ready to pour the water over her. Well of course, she screamed and I rushed in to see what the trouble was. The “boy” got such a fright at Mum screaming that he dropped the dipper which fell on Mum’s head and of course, the water went all over her. When I could make out what had happened I laughed until I cried much to Mum’s annoyance. She threatened she would never have a bath again while in the East. Needless to say, after this we always examined the roof for holes. We learnt afterwards that it was the custom for the “boy” at this place to act as the shower, but, we were the first women that had visited the rest house and no one had told him he was only to do it for the men. I shall never forget our first night.

By the way, while on the subject of baths I heard a funny story about an English lady that visited the east for the first time and asked to have a bath. The “boy” took her to the bathroom, the usual kind with the big Ali Baba jar full of cold water in the corner and before the boy had time to bring in the tub which she did not know about, she decided that it was meant for her to get into the jar which she proceeded to do. She managed to squeeze in alright but when she tried to get out she found she was stuck. When the boy arrived with the bath she could not get out and they had to send a man in to break the jar. Whether this story is true or not, I cannot say but I know when first we saw the bathrooms, we wondered if we were meant to bath in the jar but I had the sense to make enquiries first. Our first night at the castle was a bad night. I spent the night catching fleas. I never saw so many in my life. I sat on the edge of the bed with my legs dangling and caught the fleas as they hopped onto my legs. I counted up to 30 and then gave it up. Next morning, I was spotted all over. Needless to say, I went to the office and told the manageress next morning and she calmly told me that the lady that had occupied our suite before us had a pet dog in the room. I told her bluntly, if she did not find us a clean room we would leave immediately so she moved us to another suite on the other side of the building where we were free of fleas.

(Jan 25) After breakfast I went over to Williams and had my practice on a beautiful new table. Mrs Roberts Junior called and came back to lunch with us. Had siesta during the afternoon, had tea and went back and had some more practice. After dinner we sat on the roof where there were nice cane chairs and it was beautiful and cool after the heat of the day. We watched the moon rising behind the palm trees. Everything was so still and peaceful, the only sound being the tinkle of the rickshaw bells as they passed along the street. But they were very musical, then, the cinnamon in the air made the night a real tropical one. I love the East, there is something so romantic about it all. It was such a glorious night that we did not want to go to bed.

(Jan 26) Had my practice as usual and remained in all the afternoon as I had caught a cold and I had to play that night, unfortunately. Played at J R’s match room before a big audience, three Rajahs being present. They were very elaborately dressed and after the game they were presented to me and they wanted me to play at their Palaces but J R could not arrange it as we had our tour booked. I played a Mr Hunt, a very nice player but a difficult opponent being so slow and deliberate. As I play rather quickly I am afraid he got on my nerves. I felt sometimes as if I would like to stick a pin in him to make him get on with it. Not being too well also did not tend to improve my play so I was beaten by 43 in 500 up. I would like to have won that game but always try to be a good sport.

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