Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The NZ Thermette

In 1929 a Kiwi named John Hart invented the Thermette.  It quickly became a ‘must have item’ for many New Zealanders.   I remember my parents always having one in the car when we travelled.  They would stop for a break and light the Thermette for a cup of tea.

The Thermette consists of a tube shaped outer metal jacket and a cone shaped inner.  A fire is lit in the base and the void between the inner and outer skins is filled with water. Additional solid fuel can be dropped down the chimney.  It takes approximately five minutes to bring the water to boiling point.


During the Second World War, the Thermette was issued as standard equipment for New Zealand troops in North Africa. The soldiers named the Thermette the `Benghazi Burner’.  There was very little local wood so the troops would fill an empty food can with a mixture of sand and petrol to heat the Thermette. 

Much of the Allied forces petrol was delivered in thin four gallon cans nicknamed the ‘4 gallon flimsy’.  These same cans were also often reused to carry water which would be tainted with the taste of petrol.  Tea masked much of the taste in the water which meant the Kiwis treasured their Benghazi Burners.  Camp sites occupied by New Zealand army units always left the distinctive circle of scorched earth from where the Thermette stood. This puzzled the enemy troops for sometime, until they learnt that it was only New Zealand troop camps that left this distinctive tell-tale sign.

Thermette with a cooking ring on top


The modern Thermette has a copper body with a galvanised iron fire chamber.  A stainless steel cooking ring for the top is also available.

The Thermette is still manufactured in NZ by Wilson & Co.  They retail for NZ$219.

An alternative is the Kelly Kettle which originates from Ireland.  This operates on the same principle but is made from stainless steel.  It also has a number of accessories.


The Kelly Kettle is available in three sizes with the midsize costing approximately £50.

I couldn’t see us having much use for one of these cookers living on a narrowboat but one might be useful in my longer term plans.

Both work equally well so any decision comes down to method of construction and price.  Whilst emotionally I favour the Thermette, the Kelly Kettle is superior in material and price.  Therefore I would choose the Kelly Kettle. 


Dave said...

Hi Tom

Shame you hadn't mentioned this before you left the UK as i could have showed you my kelly kettle. Bought it a few years back and yes they really do boil very quickly on very little wood.

I would advise you get a stainless version (rather than aluminium) and a whistle for it.

I haven't tested it but these days when out assessing for DofE i tend to take my Trangia with gas burner and i wonder if its gas burner would work in the kelly kettle.

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Tom,

In May of 2016 when we were moored up at Tixall Wide I walked into the village for a Saturday paper. On my way back to our boat I passed a boat with three blokes on the back and what I now know is a Kelly's was sitting on a several concrete bricks up on the stern roof. They blokes were all gathered around it while their full English was cooking.I was intrigued so I had to stop and ask. I have to say breakfast sure did smell good. It's that lovely scent of food cooking outdoors. I thought the bit of kit was brilliant. I would have one if I had a place to store it but as you well know after living on an NB yourselves, it doesn't take long for every nook and cranny to become full of all the stuff one is sure one might need at some point!

Love Jaq xxx