Abraham, James Johnston (1876–1963), surgeon and writer, was born 16 August 1876 in Kingsgate St., Coleraine, Co. Londonderry, son of William Abraham (1849–1933) of Co. Fermanagh, tea merchant, general supplier, JP, and methodist circuit steward, and Elizabeth Ann Abraham (née Morrison; 1855–1941), of Toberdoney, Co. Antrim, a presbyterian. The family were strict sabbatarians. As an infant he was held up to watch the burning of an effigy of Robert Lundie (qv), implanting a memory that ‘coloured my whole life’. As a child he set a chicken's broken leg and by the age of ten discovered ‘real literature’, thus entering the two main paths of his life. He was educated at Coleraine Academy and TCD, where he graduated as senior moderator and gold medallist in natural science, and was also among the first contributors to the journal T.C.D. After qualifying as a doctor he settled in London (though his Ulster upbringing remained fundamental, and he thought Dublin ‘the loveliest city in the world’). His first published book, The surgeon's log (1911; reissued as one of the first Penguins, 1936), drew on his experience as surgeon on a banana boat. An earlier rejected novel was rewritten and published as The night nurse (1913); banned by some matrons, it was filmed in 1935 as Irish hearts (Norah O'Neale in US), greeted by a Dublin paper as ‘the most ambitious … the most daring film’ to have been made in Ireland.
Rejected by the army as over age and over-qualified at the start of the first world war, he served in Serbia (1914–15) with a Red Cross mission that was eventually worn out by dealing with a typhus epidemic. He then joined the RAMC, rising from lieutenant to lieutenant-colonel (CBE, DSO) and assistant director of medical services for the lines of communication in Palestine (1917–19). Judging that his surname made it impossible for him to work in Palestine in peacetime, he returned to London, where he married, lived at 118 Sussex Gardens, and joined the Savage and Atheneum clubs. Between the wars a duodenal ulcer ended his operating career, but he remained prominent as consulting surgeon at Princess Beatrice Hospital, managing director of a medical publishing house, and president of the Irish Medical Graduates Association (1939–50), and held office (including the vice-presidency) in the Medical Society of London. His later writings included history, biography, autobiography, and many newspaper articles on medical achievements later republished in four books (1937–53) under the pseudonym ‘James Harpole’ (formed from the names of Harley and Wimpole Streets, London). During the second world war he also took part in broadcasts.
Abraham died 9 August 1963. He married (1920) Lilian Angela, daughter of Dr Alexander Francis of London; they had one daughter.