Ruby Roberts - the lady billiards champion

Ruby Roberts

The Lady Billiards Champion

Diary of my travels abroad 1910-1911 (3)
Ruby Roberts, the lady billiards champion - Diary Entry 3

One day uncle had a letter from a lady asking him to teach her the game. It was then that the idea occurred to uncle to teach me, and after twelve months’ tuition I was giving lessons myself. - Ruby Roberts, The Billiard Monthly : May, 1911 – EABA. Available at:

I still have not become accustomed to the “boys” sleeping on the floor outside our bedroom door but that seems to be the custom. Our bedroom interested us, the floor is polished with a rug in front of the bed. There are no curtains on the windows. The beds are four-posters with mosquito nets right over the top and sides of the bed. There are no blankets only a sheet and above the bed is an electric fan which you have to keep going all night as it is so hot. At first the buzzing noise kept us awake. There are no fire places and no windows but shutters. The latter are very much better and cooler for such a hot climate. They are something like Venetian blinds. You can keep them open and yet have shade in the room.

The Cingalese (Singhalese) boys are very picturesque. They wear their hair very long but roll it up on to the back of the head and wear a big round comb which goes practically round the head. This keeps the hair in place. They do not wear trousers but sarongs mostly white and white jackets. While serving at the table they always wear white cotton gloves – the women’s are somewhat similar but they wear very bright gay colours and being very small in stature they look very attractive. The bullock wagons of which there are a great quantity are unusual. They are drawn by two small oxen, needless to say they do not travel very fast (but I found in the east everyone took things very leisurely). The native driver when he wants the oxen to “get up”, pulls their tails and makes a hideous noise.

Bullock Cart in Colombo via
Bullock Cart in Colombo via
Mt Lavinia Hotel Colombo 1880 via
Mt Lavinia Hotel Colombo 1880 via

Next day Mrs Roberts took us to Mt Lavinia a small village on the coast. We visited the “Temple” also a native village and watched the women making lace. They are very quick at it and some of it is very beautiful. We bought a few lace-edged handkerchiefs. Then we watched one of the native “boys” run up a palm tree and we were fascinated by watching them. We then went back to the Mt Lavinia hotel and had tea on the lawn. The hotel is situated on a hill facing the sea. A funny incident occurred on the way to the station. A small native girl followed us for some distance crying all the time – you my mamma, you my mamma. We had to give her a few cents to get rid of her. They are very cunning and get up to all kinds of tricks to get money.

That night Mr Roberts played the Cingalese champion at the GOH (Grand Oriental Hotel). They had fitted up a special table in the pavilion on the grounds. I forgot to mention Mr William Roberts and Mr Lumb who had charge of Mr John Roberts business in Madras had arrived prior to us to fix up the tables we were to play on. We soon settled down to the customs of the East. One has to have a siesta every afternoon until about 4pm, it being far too hot to go out at midday. In fact all the European shops closed from 12 to 2. Usually we would get up at 4pm after our rest change into something cool and go for a drive.

Grand Oriental Hotel Colombo 1880 via
Grand Oriental Hotel Colombo 1880 via
Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo, late 1800s, source:
Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo, late 1800s via

Our favourite one is round the Cinnamon Gardens. I love the scent of the spices that seem to be everywhere in the east. Another nice drive was to the Museum which is some distance out. We went round Slave Island also passed the race course and through the residential area. The homes are very nice with lovely tropical plants and flowers but what I liked was the overhanging trees across the roads which make such a nice shelter from the glaring sun.

One evening Mr Lumb said he would take us to a Tamil Theatre so we drove there in an open carriage through the native quarters, the theatre being in the heart of this part of the city. I was rather nervous as Mrs Roberts was wearing some rather valuable jewellery (which I thought extremely foolish). When our carriage drew up at the theatre all the lights went out and the natives crowded round the carriage and shouted at us. It seems they thought at first that we were the police and as they had been drinking “Toddy” which is their intoxicating liquor they were afraid we were going to arrest them hence the lights being put out. I wanted to leave but Mrs Roberts said as we were there we might as well see the play. It was an interesting experience although we could not understand a word they were saying. We only remained for about five minutes, then drove back to the hotel.

Every Wed and Sat night there was a ball at the hotel. It was called boat night and the dances were very elaborate affairs and very gay. I loved the hotel life and Mum and I would sit on the verandah and watch the natives do their tricks on the lawn. We motored to a place called Negomba about 25 miles from the city. It was a lovely drive. We went to the Rest house for tea, (by the way I found that a great number of small towns did not have hotels so the only place for travellers to stay was at these Rest Houses. Some of them were very nice but a great number were very poor). On our way to Negomba we passed several paddy (rice) fields. We came home at dusk and I have never seen such a wonderful sight. There were thousands of fireflies. I can’t describe how beautiful it was to see them flying everywhere in trees etc. and the lovely balmy air scented with cinnamon and spices. It really was the most romantic. We spent three enjoyable weeks in Colombo and met some very nice people.

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