Brookes studied under William Hunter, William Hewson, Andrew Marshall, and John Sheldon, in London. He then attended the practice of Antoine Portal and other eminent surgeons at the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris.
Brookes became a teacher of anatomy in London, and the founder of the Brookesian Museum of Comparative Anatomy. This private museum is described in his 1830 catalogue as Museum Brookesianum Embracing an Almost Endless Assemblage of Every Species of Anatomical, Pathological, Obstetrical, and Zootomical Preparations, as well as Subjects in Natural History.
Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1819, Brookes gave up teaching in 1826, in bad health. After vainly endeavouring to dispose of his museum collection entire, he sold it off piecemeal. The final sale took place on 1 March 1830, and on 22 following days. He died 10 January 1833, in Great Portland Street, London.
His published writings included:
- Lectures on the Anatomy of the Ostrich (The Lancet, vol. xii.);
- Brookesian Museum, 1827;
- Catalogue of Zootomical Collection, 1828;
- Address to the Zoological Club of the Linnean Society, 1828;
- Thoughts on Cholera, 1831, proposing hygienic and sanitary precautions; and
- a description of a new genus of Rodentia (Trans. Linn. Soc., 1829).
- Dobson, J. (1952) Eighteenth Century Anatomists: Joshua Brookes, Practitioner, 180-4.
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- Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1886). "Brookes, Joshua (1761-1833)". Dictionary of National Biography. 6. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Beolens B, Watkins M, Grayson M. 2011. The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Genus Brookesia, p. 40).
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