Teltherm History


The British Teltherm Coy was started by English immigrants Francis Cecil (Frank) Rickards and Tom Whitfield in 1946. Unusually for those times, the two were not short of money and were able to commence trading from purpose-built premises in Kent St, Auckland Central.

Although both had involvement in British instrument maker British Rototherm Ltd, it was Rickards who had much of the technical knowledge, and Whitfield the money required to ‘make it happen’. A good proportion of their workforce was attracted from UK instrument companies.

Rickards was a clever engineer, using his mechanical engineering skills to manufacture jigs and tooling required for production. The company business was founded on his designs and by 1947 there were 10 workers employed.

J. Boyd Hargraves was hired as the consulting company accountant.

Neither Whitfield nor his wife settled well into colonial New Zealand, yet Rickards busily grew the technical side of the business at a remarkable pace. In 1948 they purchased Scientific Instrument Manufacturers Ltd, selling the combined business to 5 shareholders shortly thereafter.

The newly incorporated British Teltherm Company Ltd held its first directors meeting on 9th August 1948. The inaugural shareholders were the chairman Mr T. Hay 87.5%, Mr S. Hay 5%, Mr V. Masters (also director of the National Dairy Company) 2.5%, Mr W. Wiseman (lawyer) 2.5% and Mr J.B. Hargraves (accountant) 2.5%.

Frank Rickards was retained under a service agreement and later became a minor shareholder with Whitfield opting to leave the company.

British Teltherm’s bold mission was to manufacture the finest quality industrial thermometers, second to none in the world.


As New Zealand industry grew, so did British Teltherm, albeit accompanied by some intrigue.

Barry Tills joined the board and would later become Manager, with Mr N.T. Hay Managing Director. The company moved to larger premises in Wakefield Street and grew to 16 employees extending their capability into pressure and temperature gauges and recorders.

Naturally, shareholdings changed as family members bought more shares or inherited them.

However, during the shift to the Wakefield St premises Assistant Manager ‘TJ’ Julien mysteriously failed to turn up for work. The Teltherm management was bewildered as to his whereabouts.

Julien, who lived alone, was a pivotal member of the team. It was some days before they found him in a bath at his home, electrocuted. An electric heater was close by. Repercussions for the company were serious.

Julien’s tragic death slowed production for almost a year as a suitable replacement was found.

1954 saw further misfortune. Minor shareholder N.R. King disappeared without explanation, leaving behind a wife and family. Investigation revealed he had been siphoning money from the nuts and bolts division he was managing. Although never proven, it is believed that King skipped the country and never returned — a dreadful development with his son Nev an apprentice with the company at the time.

Despite these tragic events the company’s powerful growth continued. By 1955 sales totalled £31,000 per annum; no insignificant figure at that time. The company was exporting into Australia and by 1956 was beginning to import and on-sell instruments. Supplier agreements were made with Rototherm (Whitfield and Rickard’s original employers) and Negretti & Zambra in the United Kingdom.

In 1957 a branch was set up in Wellington.


The company outgrew its Wakefield St base and new premises were procured in France Street, Newton.

British Teltherm was doing so well a 10% bonus was given to staff — the first since its inception.

Mr Barry Tills was appointed manager and mortgaged his house to buy shares in the company. Messrs N & E Hay sold their majority shareholding to J. Boyd Hargraves and Gordon Brown (a partner in same accounting company as Boyd Hargraves).

In 1961 the previous Managing Director, N.T. Hay became chairman of the Board.

Although there had been limited protection in place for manufacturers of dial thermometers, growth continued. By 1962 staff numbers were 35 and annual sales at £92,000. Shareholders received a dividend of 18%! Things were going well and export sales to Australia continued to grow.

During the 1950‘s and 60’s import licenses were a commercial fact of life in New Zealand and licenses often commanded high prices. Sometimes it was economic to buy the owners as well! Both the Tasman Instrument Coy and Beckingham Instruments were purchased, bringing valuable licenses with them.

These acquisitions combined with expanding sales resulted in the France St premises being outgrown. In the late 1960’s property was purchased in Khyber Pass, Newmarket and the company moved to these bigger and better premises.


These were expansion years for New Zealand, although some economists may now view it as growth in a ‘false economy’. Prime Minister Robert Muldoon had introduced draconian regulations to protect New Zealand manufacturers.

Not uncommonly the company now called Teltherm Instruments NZ Ltd moved to take advantage of this opportunity to block imports by extending their product range and widening their manufacturing capability.

Six more companies were purchased:

  • Malco Products - Agricultural fittings
  • Sonaphone Electronics - HiFi amplifiers & electronic equipment
  • Pressure Die Casters Plumbing - Fittings, zinc & plastic die castings
  • W & K McLean Electronic - Agencies/ Imports
  • Electric Fitments Electrical - Parts
  • Thermal Electronics - Smoke detectors & later welding equipment

Total employees swelled to over 100 and the name changed to Teltherm Industries Ltd.

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