How did gold rush miners get a good night’s rest? If they were lucky, a roadhouse or inn had beds with Pulu mattresses.
The early roadhouses had either cots or if they had ‘mattresses’, they were stuffed with straw or dried moss and sometimes feathers or curled hair. These were expensive to import because of the tariffs.
An entrepreneur got the idea that Pulu would make a great substitute because there was no import levy on it and also it was soft and cheap. Pulu was from a tree fern known as the hapu’u pulu in Hawaii. The young fronds (fiddleheads) of these tree ferns are covered with a bronze-coloured silky floss called “pulu”. Ancient Hawaiians had long used pulu.
From the late 1850s to the 1880s over 4 million pounds of pulu were shipped in bales, to be used primarily for stuffing mattresses, pillows, and upholstery. Fortunately, this stopped when people realized that over time pulu breaks down into a fine powder. The hapu’u pulu tree fern can reach a large height but it is very slow growing at only half an inch per year.
At Pierce & Seymour’s furniture store at the corner of Yates and Douglas Streets, pulu mattresses were advertised as a popular material for bedding:
“It [pulu] is universally conceded to be equal to feathers and better than curled hair for this climate, at half the price of either.”
Pierce & Seymour also made mattresses made of straw or curled hair.
J. Ducie Cusheon placed the following advertisement in the Daily Colonist June 27, 1859:
100 Additional Men Can be accommodated with Board and Lodgings at the UNION HOTEL, Government Street, VICTORIA, V.I.
Which house is now conducted on the same principle as the WHAT CHEER HOUSE of San Francisco.
The table which speaks for itself will be supplied with every delicacy.
Board per day $1.00
New Beds, Pulu Mattresses, single and double rooms at $1.00 and $2.00 per week.
The NEW WING to the above House has been most tastefully fitted up with WASH AND BATH ROOM. Also, a select private READING ROOM, with a Library of choice books, Atlantic, European and California newspapers.
J. Ducie Cusheon, Agent.