In 1970 Leslie Bethell argued that the Brazilian slave trade was ended by British pressure. Since then others have pointed to slaveholders’ fears of insurrection and of yellow fever. This article addresses the issue by reviewing Brazilian slavery, the African trade and yellow fever. Its analysis of sources and context leads it to question revisionist arguments. Moreover, while it supports Bethell on the centrality of British pressure, it goes beyond his appreciation of internal Brazilian political affairs. It provides greater specificity, clarifying the key importance of political history, the structure of state-society relations and the significance of the Brazilian leadership of the time.