The province is divided into four departments, with only the two on the eastern part of the Isla Grande of the Tierra del Fuego archipelagounder undisputed Argentine administration. This area includes the provincial capital Ushuaia and a border with the Chilean province of Tierra del Fuego, and also includes Staten Island to the East. The other two departments are, respectively, Argentina's claims to the British overseas territories of the Falkland Islands (under their Spanish-language name, Malvinas) and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; and the Argentine claim to Antarctica. The latter is suspended under the Antarctic Treaty (as are all Antarctic territorial claims by other nations).
The province had been inhabited by indigenous people for more than 12,000 years, since they migrated south of the mainland. It was first discovered by a European in 1520 when spotted by Ferdinand Magellan. Even after Argentina achieved independence, this territory remained under indigenous control until the nation's campaign known as the Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s. After defeating most of the Indians in the desert part of Patagonia, Argentina organized this section in 1885 as a territory. European immigration followed due to agold rush and rapid expansion of sheep farming on large ranches in the area. Tierra del Fuego was the most recent Argentine territory to gain provincial status, which occurred in 1990.
The youngest of the Argentine provinces was first inhabited around 12,000 years ago. When the first Europeans arrived, they encountered a population of about 10,000 indigenous people belonging to four tribes: Yámana, Alakaluf (now known by their autonym of Kawésqar), Selk'nam and Manek'enk (Haush). Within fifty years of discovery, only about 350 natives remained due to high fatalities from the endemic diseases carried by Europeans, such as smallpox and measles, as the natives had no immunity to these new diseases. In addition, in the late 19th century, ranchers and settlers committed genocide against the Selk'nam. The provincial capital city is Ushuaia, from a native word meaning "bay towards the end".
The territory was first seen by Europeans in 1520 during Ferdinand Magellan's expedition. He named the area Land of Smokes (later changed to Land of Fire), as he saw what were probably the fires produced by the local Amerindian peoples for heat. Juan de Alderete in 1555 and later Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboaintended to found settlements in the area. The harsh weather and the constant attacks of British pirates, who took Sarmiento de Gamboa prisoner, frustrated their ambitions.
Spanish, Dutch, British and French explorers ventured on Tierra del Fuego island and the nearby seas. Gabriel de Castilla passed through before exploring the Antarctic islands. In the early 1830s, Commander Robert FitzRoy, and Charles Darwin explored this land and other parts of Patagonia via the HMS Beagle.
In 1828 Argentina established a penal colony at Puerto Luis on the Falkland Islands. In 1833 the British sent a naval task force to request that the Argentine representative of the islands,José María Pinedo, and Argentine forces leave the islands, and re-established their rule there.