The two stories below give differing dates as to the establisment of this hotel, further research is being undertaken to try to establish which is correct.

The History of the Stag Hotel.

By Mrs. Murtaugh, reproduced from

"Back To Learmonth" Centenary Celebration 1937.


The Stag Hotel has been closely associated with the early history of Learmonth. It is the second oldest hotel in the Ballarat district, the oldest being Craig's Hotel (originally known as Bath's Hotel). The Stag Hotel was established in 1854, the first licence being granted to a Mr. Mackenzie, and the licence was held by a member of the Mackenzie family continuously for 68 years; surely a record for any hotel in Victoria.




Stag Hotel covered in snow.

There are on record meetings of the Cemetery Trust, Roads Boards and other pioneer bodies being held at the Stag Hotel as far back as 1858. To-day it is the only survivor of the many hotels opened in the Learmonth district. Situated at the junction of the Weatherboard and Avoca Roads, it has always been the centre and calling place for all traffic to Ballarat, and the older generation, and perhaps some of the Come-back, will remember the gold mining boom days, with twelve coaches leaving the Stag Hotel daily, carrying the miners from Avoca, Talbot and Fiery Creek rushes to Ballarat.

What a busy place it must have been in those days, with its large stables and dozens of horses. What is to-day the billiard room was in those days the bar and booking office for all the coaches. in the early days most of the land surrounding the hotel belonged to Mr. Mackenzie, and what is now Alexander park and the recreation ground belonged to the hotel. Race and sports meetings were held there regularly, horses coming all the way from Melbourne to compete.

There was also a bicycle track, and bike races were held at a later date. The last of the Mackenzies to hold the licence of the Stag Hotel sold the sports ground to the Shire Council, so that the people of Learmonth should have a sports ground for all time.


Back in the seventies and eighties, when ploughing matches were booming, the Stag Hotel was the meeting place for champion ploughmen, and many matches were arranged here. Some of the older folk will remember the interest taken, when men came from as far afield as New South wales to compete in the champion ploughing matches.The early licencees seem to have taken a great interest in sport of all kinds, and participated in the boat races and regattas on Lake Learmonth. One of the boats last used on the lake was owned by one of the members of the family.

For very many years the Ballarat Shire Council held its annual President's Dinner at the Stag Hotel, and numerous Presidents, long since departed, presided over large gatherings on those occasions, when members of parliament and visitors came from far and near; and the Stag has had many notable men under its roof.

Many changes have been made since the first licence was granted, and the big stables are not used so much now that the motor car has supplanted the horse. Still the hotel serves a large district.

The proprietor, Mr. H. T. Murtaugh, extends a cordial invitation to any of the Home-comers to come and have a look through this old landmark of early Leamonth.

A hearty welcome awaits you.

The following article was researched and written by LDHS member,

Mrs Claudette Crick.

The McKay family, who left Scotland at the time of the clearances in Sutherland County, arrived in Melbourne in 1854 on board the vessel, Hilton. William McKay came to Learmonth the mid 1850s, pitching his tent on the ground on which the Lady of the Lake Hotel was later built. He commenced trading as a storekeeper realizing the amount of traffic through the area, to the goldfields, could support a viable business.

In August 1857 William McKay, who was planning to commence the construction of his hotel on his corner block, received a letter from the Committee of the Learmonth Presbyterian Church intimating "they didn't want a public house on their proposed site". A short time after this the church committee found what they considered to be the best site and purchased the necessary goods from Mr McKay to build their church that opened in Feb. 1858. Perhaps in appreciation for not building on his chosen land, Mr McKay presented an 8-day clock to the committee to place in the new church.


William McKay had applied for a hotel licence from the Ballarat Court of Petty Sessions before 1859, so the Stag Hotel situated at the junction of Weatherboard and Avoca roads was well in business before he purchased the land at auction in 1859. Cobb & Co had opened up a new era by transporting passengers to the goldfields. They made arrangements with hotelkeepers for passenger meals, accommodation, stabling horses and changing teams. The Stag Hotel which was also a Cobb & Co changing station catering for passengers on up to 6 coaches a day, had a total of 7 bedrooms, 4 of which were for public use and a dining room which seated 16 people. William was the licensee until 1863 followed by his brother-in–law, Murdoch McKenzie. William continued ownership of the hotel until his death in 1870 and it remained in his estate until 1894.

In the following stories, much will be told about William McKay known as the Father of Learmonth.

In 1863, the 1st regatta held on Lake Learmonth attracted between 4000 and 5000 people. Murdoch McKenzie, the new licensee of the Stag Hotel was a very keen boat owner. He erected a commodious boathouse, 20 feet by 30 feet, for the accommodation of racing boats expected from Melbourne and other places.

Many different organizations such as the Cemetery Trust, Sailing and Ploughing Committees and political gatherings met at the hotel and the Shire of Ballarat had its lunches in the dining room for many years.

Murdoch McKenzie was the licensee until 1892 when it was transferred to a John McKenzie, from another district family. John became the hotel owner in 1894 when the executors of William's estate, Murdoch McKenzie and Thomas Bath, sold some of the blocks that William had purchased in 1859 and 1860.


Stag Hotel - 1913


The hotel was ideally located, being so close to Lake Learmonth for the use of sportsmen and sportswomen. An advertisement in the Stock and Land Journal of 1913 stated – "For over 50 years, the Stag hotel one of the best-known landmarks in the state has been noted for its genuine excellence. Its position is unique, facing the famous lake which gives remarkable hauls of both Perch and Trout. Several commodious bathing boxes for Ladies and Gentlemen and for Children. The cuisine of the hotel is excellent. First class fishing and shooting".

During John McKenzie's ownership, an Ada McKenzie who was probably his daughter, was the licensee, on and off until 1916. She became the owner of the hotel from about 1910 until Herbert T Murtagh purchased it; date possibly 1942, although he was connected with it when Learmonth held a "Back To" in 1937. During the time of Ada McKenzie's ownership, licensee names regularly changed. Since 1943 licensees have included – G T Kelly, F J Keogh, R G & P J Simpson, P J Browne & N J & J F Plozza.
Between 1943 – 1988 owners have included – Gerald T Kelly, Francis J Keogh, Henry J Young, R J & H M Howard and D A T & D A Muir, K & T J Hall, A A E & B Carter.

With the demise of the goldfields, the introduction of the motorcar, the removal of passenger trains through Learmonth, the Shire Council shifting its offices to Ballarat and the lake now being dry for many years, the Stag hotel is very different from in its hey day.


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