Harrisville is believed to be named after brothers John Harris (1819–1895) and George Harris (1831–1891) who had a store and cotton ginnery in the area. Cotton was a valuable crop at that time as the American Civil War had created a worldwide shortage.
The area formed part of the old Mount Flinders sheep station established by William Wilson (and his brother Robert) around 1844, soon after the Moreton Bay penal colony closed. Some of the land from this station became available to selectors in December 1860 with provision of the Ipswich Agricultural Reserve. In 1863 Robert Dunn selected a portion from this Reserve, from which the Harris brothers purchased their land in 1870.
Prior to this settlement and others throughout the Moreton region, a survey baseline of 3 miles (4.8 km) in 1839 was marked out on the floodplain, then known as Normanby Plains, which now forms part of Harrisville, together with Wilsons Plains and Radford to the south. It was supervised by the surveyor Robert Dixon as the basis of a trigonometrical survey starting with Flinders Peak to the east and Mount Walker (then Mount Forbes) to the west which began the accurate interior mapping of Queensland. A monument to this work “In the Steps of Our Forefathers” is situated just west of the Harrisville township on the Warrill View – Peak Crossing Road, along where the baseline passed.
Harrisville Post Office opened on 1 August 1873 (a receiving office had been open from 1871).
Queensland’s first branch railway line reached Harrisville in 1882. A private hospital operated from 1911 until 1973.