William Sim was born in 1844, the youngest of the family. Like his siblings, he was educated at a small local school, before spending some time at the parish school in Fyvie. Basic though his education may have been, William spent his life building on it, with great success. He became familiar with the Latin names for the birds and plants around him. He observed nature in detail through his microscope. He studied the life cycles of the insect pests that attacked his animals and his crops. He understood the science and the techniques of hybridising new plants. He was first and foremost a tenant farmer. Only after he had finished work on the farm could he pursue the reading, studying and record keeping that he carried out all of his life.
The year following his birth, 1845, was the first year of the failure of the potato crop in Ireland and parts of the west of Scotland. The agriculture of Aberdeenshire in the east of Scotland was much less focused on potato growing. The main crop was oats and this was the main element of the everyday diet. However, William was born into a community in which the fear of further attacks of the disease causing the loss of the potato crop and resultant hunger was ever present. This must have influenced his research into new varieties of potato. He also investigated the insect pests that attacked the cattle and horses on his farm.
The Sims were well known and respected in the Fyvie district for their knowledge and their abilities. A local schoolmaster recalling William told this little story. “On one occasion neither I nor a brother dominie could identify a botanical specimen growing plentifully in the Windyhills Woods in July. Completely defeated, we sent several specimens to William, and by return of post came a post-card with the English and Latin names of the flower”.
“With a University education Mr Sim could have filled a Professor’s and adorned it, but he was the humblest of men, and sought no honours.”