Born in Bath Street, Wivenhoe, Essex. He was the son of John Harvey, a yacht-designer and shipbuilder, and Margaret Diana Mary Goyder. His father expected him to follow his own profession, but Martin Harvey had his sights set on the stage.
Martin Harvey's most famous play was first produced at the Lyceum on 16 February 1899. This was The Only Way, an adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities in which Martin Harvey played the lead role of Sydney Carton.
After Sir Henry Irving's death in 1905, Martin Harvey continued to revive his old manager's plays, often using Irving's own props which he had bought. These plays included The Bells and The Lyons Mail.
By the time he retired, Martin Harvey claimed to have performed The Only Way more than 3,000 times, though this would not have been possible in reality.
In 1889 he married Angelita Helena Maria de Silva Ferro, daughter of a Chilean consul and a fellow actor in Irving's company who used the stage name Miss N. de Silva. They had two children, Muriel Martin-Harvey and Michael Martin-Harvey, both successful actors.
In the 1983 film, James Joyce's Women, Fionnula Flanagan plays the wife of James Joyce. While at the seashore she sees an attractive young man who reminds her of seeing in a theatre "..Martin-Harvey, the actor".
- The Broken Melody (1916)
- The Only Way (1927)
- The Burgomaster of Stilemonde (1929)
- The Lyons Mail (1931)
- Sir John Martin-Harvey
- John Martin-Harvey on Flickr
- University of Bristol Theatre Collection, University of Bristol
- Busby, Brian: Character parts: who's really who in Canlit. Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2003
- Butler, Nicholas: John Martin-Harvey: the biography of an actor-manager. Wivenhoe: Nicholas Butler, 1997.
- Disher, Maurice Willson: The last romantic: the authorised biography of Sir John Martin-Harvey. London: Hutchinson, 1948
- Edgar, George: Martin Harvey: some pages of his life. London: Grant Richards, 1912.
- Martin-Harvey, John, Sir: The book of Martin Harvey. London: Henry Walker, 1930.
- Martin-Harvey, John, Sir: The autobiography of Sir John Martin-Harvey. London: Sampson Low, 1933.