If you consider that at in the era under discussion, it is likely that hive equipment was often manufactured locally, and done so with hand tools in many cases.
Drilling any hole involved a brace and bit,
and smaller bits are much easier to use, and likely more readily available.
Drill two small holes space a few inches apart, insert a saw similar to a coping saw, and cut out the wood between the holes.
That may have been simpler than trying to drill a single large hole.