Ruby Roberts - the lady billiards champion

Ruby Roberts

The Lady Billiards Champion

Diary of my travels abroad 1910-1911 (5)
Ruby Roberts, the lady billiards champion - Diary Entry 5

After about eighteen months’ play my average break had grown to be thirty, ...I played matches in private and gave lessons, and kept on improving until I got to the hundred break. My highest break was 168 off the red. - Ruby Roberts, The Billiard Monthly : May, 1911 – EABA. Available at:

Fort Cornwallis, Penang, 1910, source: Wikimedia Commons
Fort Cornwallis, Penang, 1910 via Wikimedia Commons

Arrived at Penang on Nov 9th. Mr Oxenham came to meet us and took us ashore while Mr Roberts saw to the luggage. We went to Raffles Hotel and had a lovely breakfast. Mrs Norman the proprietor’s wife showed us our rooms. Mum and I had a lovely large room on the first floor with a balcony from which we had a glorious view of the harbour. We used to sit there in the evenings and watch the sunsets. They are marvellous in the tropics. The hotel appeared to be just at the foot of the hills but really they were five miles away. Crag’s Hotel is situated on top of the hill and it was very pretty at night to see all the twinkling lights. Also, one of the native servants used to sit at the hotel gate and sing a plaintive little song which was most attractive. It is difficult to describe Raffles. It had been built for some rich china man but Mr and Mrs Norman had turned it into a hotel.

Crag Hotel, Penang Hill, source: Wikimedia Commons
Crag Hotel, Penang Hill via Wikimedia Commons

Every room had a balcony and private bathroom, the latter being most extraordinary in our eyes. I could not make out how we were to have bath. The floor was covered with lead and had holes at intervals. In one corner was a huge jar full of cold water. Then, there was a wash stand and a big dipper. I wondered what the dipper was for but I soon found out. The “boy” would bring in a big tub of warm water in which you had to bathe. Afterwards you stepped out of the tub, took the dipper, filled it with the cold water and just poured it over yourself like a shower. After you had finished your bath the boy would come in and throw all the water from the tub on the floor and swill it down and the water ran out through the holes in the floor. It seemed a very primitive way to us but we soon got used to it.

Penang Gardens Entrance, source: Wikimedia Commons
Penang Gardens Entrance via Wikimedia Commons

Mr Oxenham took me to the Penang Club and introduced me to the Secretary. The club being only a few minutes’ walk from the hotel I used to go over every morning for my practice. As usual after “Tiffin” we would sleep until 4pm and then go for a ride in the “rickshaws”. The rickshaws in Colombo only carry one passenger but in Penang they carry two. It seemed terrible to us at first to think that the boys had to pull two of us but they don’t seem to worry and my word, they can travel. We went by “rickshaw” one afternoon to the gardens which are situated at the foot of the mountains, five miles out. It was a beautiful run along lovely roads with overhanging trees forming an arch. Arrived at the garden, natives wait to carry you up the mountain side. They have a novel way of doing it. They have funny little chairs attached to long poles in which you sit and they carry you all the way to the top. It was a novel experience for me but I am not sure that I liked it. On our return to the gardens we spent some time looking at the display of orchids which were very wonderful. We got a guide to take us to the waterfall where we sampled the spring water. The guide took us all round the gardens. After paying the guide we went back to the hotel.

Penang Botanic Gardens Waterfall, Penang Museum historical painting L136b
Penang Botanic Gardens Waterfall via Wikimedia Commons
Penang Botanic Gardens Orchid, source: Wikimedia Commons
Penang Botanic Gardens Orchid via Wikimedia Commons

In the evening we had some music and I met Sherrick Vincent a friend of the Normans. He and Mr Norman sang comic songs together while Mrs Norman played their accompaniments so we had some very jolly evenings. Mr Vincent took us motoring to a little native village about 30 miles out. It was a lovely open car (most of the cars have collapsible hoods so that at night they can let them down for coolness) on arrival the natives swarmed round the car some even got down on their knees and looked underneath. I don’t think some of them had seen a car before. We got out and went round the bazaars where we bought some Chinese things, amongst them some joss sticks. On our return to the car I sat in front with Sherrick, he started the car. It made such a noise I think he said it was the exhaust. Anyhow it startled the natives who ran for their lives in all directions. We did laugh. Arrived home about 12am. Next day Mrs Oxenham took us for a motor drive to all the places of clubs which I was interested in as I was to play at most of them. We returned to the hotel via China Town. I played Danny Brown on Sat. night at the club; quite a big crowd present amongst them a large number of ladies. After the match a very nice supper was provided and I met all the notable people, won my game and everyone was very pleased with me.

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