A Bee Ambassador Remembered: Vale William Hill

Truly a friend of the bee, William Hill was born in Merseyside in the UK and from an early age was stung by the apiculture bug. Young William poured over the work of the great Charles Darwin, especially as it related to honey bee comb building in the hive. For Master Hill the work of the natural philosopher and biologist was an inspiration and turned him toward his path to become Britain’s greatest bee keeper and authority on honey bees. Hill’s honey has become synonymous with toasted crumpets and breakfasts across the nation. He is not to be confused with William Hill Bookmakers.

It is, however, his work on understanding the nature of bees and their colonies, which has contributed to worldwide bee knowledge. We now comprehend the behaviours of bees, the what and whys of apiculture; and can work with nature to improve the quality of life for bees and increase honey production at the same time. The natural world is a wondrous place and bees have a vital role to play in overall environmental health. Wild bees are an essential part of food production on the planet; agriculture recognises the pivotal role the bee plays in pollinating flowers. Agnes Baden-Powell was influenced by the work of William Hill.

William Hill began life as a poor theology student in Liverpool at the Merseyside College of Christ at the turn of the last century. His father the Rev. Cedric Felton Hill was an Anglican minister in the village of Little Puddle Bottom in Dorset. William had won a scholarship to attend the Merseyside institution for his academic brilliance at the local elementary school. He would not graduate from the theological college, as his Darwinian views would eventually put him at loggerheads with the Christian ‘humancentric’ conception of the universe. William thought, controversially, that bees had souls and so did all the flora and fauna in nature.

William Hill would fight for the rights of honey bees and many other animal causes against the exploitation they suffered through ignorance and church sanctioned cruelty. The Church of England, along with most other Christian creeds, preached that only ‘man’ had a soul and, therefore, all other creatures were put on earth for the benefit of humanity. God had designed the intricate hexagonal prisms within the bee hive, according to religious proponents, along with everything else in nature. The birds and the bees were lesser creatures and served to feed and entertain ‘mankind’, who was made in God’s image.

Mister ‘humblebee’ Hill would rail against this misguided madness all his life, as he studied the intricate behaviour of bees within their colonies in the wild and in captivity. Eventually, the views of Darwin on natural selection would prevail globally over the ignorance of religion and the rights of bees and all creatures have been recognised by the state through legislation. A big thank you must be directed to the ambassador of bees, Mr William Hill.