Green’s Dictionary of Slang

sham abram v.

also sham abraham
[sham v.1 + abram n.]

1. (also play Abraham) to fake illness; also as n.

[UK]Bloody Register III 304: He was not able to stand, but lay and crawled upon the deck, of which he informed the Captain, who said, ‘D— n the rascal, he shams Abraham’.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
‘Abraham Newland a New Song’ [ballad] I have heard people say that sham Abraham you may; ah, every day; But you must not sham Abraham Newland.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]D. Carey Life in Paris 102: I excused you yesterday on account of the ladies, – that plea won’t hold any longer. Come, no sham Abrahams among old acquaintance.
[UK]Annals of Sporting 1 Feb. 133: He did so come it [...] shamming Abram, and pretending to be deaf to time.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict. 3: Abram, to sham, – to slum, to pretend sickness.
[UK]C. Brontë Shirley III 219: Matthew, sceptic and scoffer, had already failed to subscribe a prompt belief in that pain about the heart; he had muttered some words, amongst which the phrase shamming Abraham had been very distinctly audible.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc.
[UK]E. de la Bédollière Londres et les Anglais 312/1: to sham abram, [...] feindre une maladie.
[UK]C. Reade Hard Cash II 284: Look out [...] he’s shamming Abraham.
[US]G.P. Burnham Memoirs of the US Secret Service viii: Sham Abraham, to play ill; to pretend to be sick.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 16 Aug. 24/2: [H]e was informed that there were only a dozen ‘shamming Abraham.’ It was a cardinal point of faith with every constable that no convict was ever really ill.
[Aus]‘Price Warung’ Tales of the Early Days 149: Udn’t I look a fool now ter report ’Arry ’Ansen sick, an’ then by an’ by th’ doc. comes ’long an’ ses he’s a-shammin’ Abram?
[UK]D. Stewart Vultures of the City in Illus. Police News 29 Dec. 14/3: ‘I won’t queer your deal. I’ll give you a downer and then you must sham Abraham’.
[UK]D. Stewart Shadows of the Night in Illus. Police News 7 Sept. 12/3: ‘Not the first time as I’ve played Abraham. It wants a lot of faking’.
[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era.

2. of a beggar, to travel the country posing as a madman.

[UK]J. Caulfield Blackguardiana.
Leamington Advertiser 1 Sept. 3/4: This induced vagrants to imitate the Bethlehem dress and pretend idiocy; till the governors of the hospital ordered that if any person ‘sham an Abram’ he should be whipped and set in the stocks when came the saying, he is ‘shamming Abram’.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]J. Mair Hbk of Phrases 27: Shamming Abraham. To impose by false appearance. When Bethlehem Hospital, in London, was first opened, there was a department called Abraham ward for harmless idiots, who, under certain restrictions were allowed to beg in the streets. This privilege induced many imposters to ‘sham Abraham;’ and severe laws were passed against the pretenders.

3. (Aus.) to fake sanity.

[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 6 July 12/8: Sane? Great God! the fiend was shamming, / Shamming Abram all the time.