Harvey townsite is located in the southwest 140 kilometres south of Perth. It derives its name from the nearby Harvey River, which was named by Governor Stirling in 1829, soon after the river's discovery by explorers Collie and Preston in 1829. Although not positively known, the river is most likely named after Rear Admiral Sir John Harvey RN, Commander in Chief of the West Indies Station in 1818. Stirling was in command of the "Brazen" in those waters at the time, and Harvey recommended him for promotion. Stirling named a number of Western Australian features after his former navy colleagues.
Harvey was developed as a private town in the 1890s following the opening of a railway station there in 1893. In 1926 the Harvey Road Board sought the declaration of a townsite, but this did not occur until 1938.