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Lilian Suzette Gibbs was born 10 September 1870, the eldest daughter of Richard Birkette and Laura Gibbs. After being widowed, her mother married the Marchese di Saliceto. Miss Gibbs was educated at private schools in England and on the European Continent. In 1899 she began two years of training at Swanley Horticultural College and then studied botany at the Royal College of Science (now Imperial College, London) in Souht Kensington under Professor J. B. Farmer. Upon completing an advanced course there she began, as a lady of independent means, her career of research and travel.