Robert Andrew Loughnan was born at Patna, India, probably on 1 September 1841, one of nine children of Frances Eliza Barnes and her husband, Robert James Loughnan, a judge in the service of the British East India Company. The family was Irish in origin, but a forebear had settled in Spain in the late seventeenth century. From there, Robert Andrew's grandfather had moved to London sometime before Robert James's birth in 1808.
Loughnan spent his early years in India. Following his father's retirement to England in 1856, he was educated by the Jesuits at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire and at the Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin. Probably in 1861 he accompanied his father and brothers to Australia to try farming. In 1865 he arrived in New Zealand with his cousin Ignatius. They travelled first to Canterbury and then to Central Otago, where in 1867 they purchased Mount Pisa station. Judge Loughnan, his wife and the other children settled in Christchurch at Woolston, in 1868.
About 1870 Loughnan gave up farming, and after trying several other occupations turned to journalism, gaining his first experience in Dunedin contributing to the Otago Guardian and Otago Daily Times. In 1873 he joined with Bishop Patrick Moran, Thomas Bracken and others to help establish a Catholic weekly, the New Zealand Tablet. The abilities he displayed and his interest in politics soon attracted the attention of William Reeves, who in 1875 appointed him editor of the Lyttelton Times. He held this position until 1889, when he shifted to Wellington as editor of Archbishop Francis Redwood's short-lived Catholic Times. Loughnan then became editor of the New Zealand Times. After its purchase in 1892 by a group of businessmen whose directors included John Ballance and William Pember Reeves, Loughnan turned the paper into a strong supporter of the Liberal government's policies. In 1896 he moved to Australia where he worked on the Sydney Morning Herald. Returning to New Zealand, apparently in 1901, he rejoined the New Zealand Times as associate editor. With broken service in 1905, when he served as secretary to the royal commission on Crown lands tenure and settlement, and from 1907 to 1914, when he was a member of the Legislative Council, he was still occupying the position in 1925.
Loughnan also produced a number of books, including seven between 1901 and 1911. Most were concerned with advertising the achievements of and prospects for British settlers in New Zealand; several works were commissioned by the government. Royalty in New Zealand, published in 1902, was an enthusiastic account of the visit in 1901 of the duke and duchess of Cornwall and York. In 1929 he published a hagiographic life of the prime minister, Sir Joseph Ward, whose career he extolled as exemplifying the superiority of colonial conditions of life over those in Britain. He argued that Ward's success was due not just to his own abilities and efforts but in a special way to the opportunities available in New Zealand to talented individuals who might lack inherited advantages. More specifically, he presents Ward as being not just an agent of, but also the finest product of, Liberal rule.
Loughnan was a small, red-haired man with a fine singing voice, a fondness for music, a lively personality, and a fluent command of French. Well known among journalists and politicians (especially Liberals), he was also prominent as a Catholic layman, and sang for over two decades in the choir of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
On 28 November 1877, at Akaroa, Loughnan had married Victoire Rose de Malmanche, a descendant of French settlers from Akaroa. They had no children but were closely involved with the life of the extended family. Victoria, as she was known, died at Wellington on 1 July 1919, and Robert Loughnan at Wellington on 14 September 1934, aged 93.