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Matthew Scott was one of 17 children, born in 1834 on the estate of Knowsley in Lancashire, England, where both his parents had also been born. Knowsley belonged to Lord Derby, who kept a large menagerie. At age ten Matthew was put to work in the aviary. After five years he was switched over to being the keeper of deer and antelope, and he remained as their keeper until 1851 when he was sent to the London Zoo with a small herd of eland, which had been a death bequest to the zoo by the old earl.