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Definition: Tierra del Fuego from The Macquarie Dictionary

a group of islands at the southern tip of South America, separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan, and belonging partly to Argentina (2091 km2), and partly to Chile (50 251 km2).

Summary Article: TIERRA DEL FUEGO
from Encyclopedias of the Natural World: Encyclopedia of Islands

Tierra del Fuego is the extensive archipelago of large and small islands at the southern tip of South America, separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan. Its total area is 73,746 km2, two-thirds of which is owned by Chile, one-third by Argentina. The largest island within the archipelago is Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego (Fig. 1).


The archipelago is further dived by the Beagle Channel running along the southern coast of Isla Grande. Along the Argentine territory, it forms the border with the Chilean islands to the South. The Chilean territory contains Cape Horn and False Cape Horn (both located on islands). Cape Horn is located on Isla Hornos in the Hermite Islands group, a small archipelago at the very southern extent of Tierra del Fuego. The cape was not named for its shape, but rather for the city of Hoorn in the Netherlands, the birthplace of Dutch navigator Willem Cornelisz Schouten, who first sailed around the cape in 1616. Although Cape Horn is consered the southern tip of South America, Islas Diego Ramirez are farther south, with Islote Aguila being the southernmost in that group. False Cape Horn is a headland at the southern tip of Isla Hoste and is the southernmost point of one of the large islands that constitute Tierra del Fuego, but it is quite often mistaken for Cape Horn itself, especially by sailors approaching from the west.

Isla Grande and other islands constituting the Tierra del Fuego archipelago.

Also in Chilean territory, Cape Froward is the southernmost extremity of the South American continental land mass, located on the Brunswick Peninsula on the north shore of the Strait of Magellan, south of Punta Arenas.


The region supports an attenuated southern flora and fauna, as well as dominant introduced species such as the North American beaver, the European rabbit, and sheep, as well as the native guanaco.

Forests within the Tierra del Fuego National Park contain tree species of Lenga, Guindo, and Nire. In his Journal and Remarks (later, Voyage ofthe Beagle), Charles Darwin mentions "vegetation thriving most luxuriantly, and large woody stemmed trees of Fuchsia and Veronica in full flower" that was noted on a previous expedition. Darwin himself claims to "have seen parrots feeding on the seeds of the winter's bark, south of latitude 55°."


Events that took place in Tierra del Fuego during the first of three surveying voyages of HMS Beagle include the suice of Royal Navy Captain Pringle Stokes in 1828, the appointment of Flag Lieutenant Robert FitzRoy as his replacement, and FitzRoy's subsequent knapping of four Fuegian Indians in 1830, which ultimately led to Charles Darwin's participation in the second Beagle circumnavigation-surveying voyage in 1831-1836. It was on this voyage that Captain FitzRoy returned three of the Fuegian Indians—a fourth had died of smallpox in England—to their home on Isla Navarino, on the Chilean se of the Beagle Channel.

Tierra del Fuego in general is known for its harsh weather, and Cape Horn in particular is renowned in the history of sailing for the difficulty experienced by vessels and their crews when "rounding the Horn." Buccaneer William Ambrosia Cowley described his experience in 1684: "The weather in the lat. of 60 deg. was so extream cold that we could bear drinking 3 quarts of Brandy in 24 hours each Man, and be not all the worse for it." With perhaps less brandy on hand, Captain Dav Porter of the U. S. frigate Essex offered this recommendation after his own passage in February 1813: "I would advise those bound into the Pacific, never to attempt the passage of Cape Horn, if they can get there by any other route." Adding to the negative experiences from tempestuous passages around Cape Horn were the remarks of Philo White (1789-1883), who rounded the Horn in 1841 in the U.S. sloop of war Dale and wrote: "It is now going on four weeks, that we have been off Cape Horn! buffeting strong gales of contrary winds,—wearing and tacking ship, in endeavors to make progress against tremendous head swells, and strong adverse currents,—amst furious snow squalls, and hail and sleet storms: There is consequently much suffering amongst the crew."

Tierra del Fuego has the world's southernmost city (Ushuaia), national park (Parque Nacional Cabo de Hornos), highway (Argentina's RN 3), and brewery (Cervecería Fueguina).


Continental Islands / Juan Fernandez Islands / Voyage of the Beagle

  • Armstrong, P. 2004. Darwin's other islands. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.
  • Olivero, E. B., and Martinioni, D. R.. 2001. A review of the geology of the Argentinian Fuegian Andes. Journal of South American Earth Sciences 14: 175-188.
Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California,
Rockville Centre, New York
© 2009 by the Regents of the University of California

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