In earlier part of nineteenth century the British tax collection system as far as commodity taxes are concerned were governed by many Regulations and some Enactments.
Prior to 1889, the Salt, Abkari and Customs departments were together. However by the Madras Salt Act 1889, Salt and Abkari were organised underthe Madras Salt department and it functioned from the Custom House at Madras.In more ways than one, in the Salt and Abkari department which stood separated from the Customs but functioned from the Custom House, Madras, the initial Excise administration in Madras was initiated.

The Salt department, under the Collector of Salt Revenue, Madras had three divisions- Northern, Central and Southern. Northern division consisted of  Cocanada, Nellore, Massulipattinam and Chicacole. Central Division  consisted of Chengleput, Bellary, Arcot and Cuddalore. Southern division  consisted of sub-divisions like Nagapattinam, Tinnavelley, Trichinapally, and  Calicut (Names as found in old records have been mentioned). Besides Salt  and Abkari revenue, the Salt department also administered all the Customs out  ports in the coastal areas and land customs stations.

The year 1924 crossed an important milestone when Salt revenue was  separated from Salt and Abkari department of Madras Presidency (till this date Excise duty on liquor remained with the State Government a fact we all know). 
A separate Salt department was carved out with Collector of Salt Revenue as  the head. This department also looked after the Customs out ports. The Salt department located its Offices in various places like Triplicane, Cathedral Road and finally Sterling Road. There were 13 Customs Outports in the Madras Presidency, at Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Portonovo, Vizagapatam, Baindoor, Gangoli, Cannanore, Moolky, Badagara, Ponnani, Allepey, Quilon and Trivandrum.

The Salt Amendment Act transferred the Madras Salt Department to the  administrative control of Government of India in 1926. This was a major  milestone in the centralisation of Modern day Central Excise Department. In  1932, Rules were framed for the recruitment of Personnel for the Salt   department. New uniforms were also prescribed during this period.
In 1930 Silver was made an excisable commodity. In 1931 Provisional Collection  of Taxes Act was legislated. In 1934 more commodities were brought under the  Tax net for instance Iron and Steel, Matches, Sugar and Mechanical Lighters.  Also a Tariff Act was legislated in 1934. Elaborate procedures, rules and  regulations were framed for assessment, levy and collection of duty on the new  excisable commodities like matches and sugar. 

During this time the Central Board of Revenue was constituted in 1934.  Collector of Salt Revenue, Madras looked after three fold functions i.e. administration of Salt Act under the Central Board of Revenue; administration of Excise on matches, sugar and other commodities under the provincial governments and administration of Customs Outports and Land Customs stations.
Now that many commodities came under the tax net the need for streamlining  the system was felt acutely by the colonial government. The British constituted  King's Committee to study the feasibility of centralising the administration of  Central Excises under the Central Board of Revenue.
Mr. F.C. KING, was deputed by the British Government to study the feasibility of the Government of India taking over the administration of Central Excises from the Provincial Governments. Hitherto the respective  Provincial Governments administered the revenue department and the  collection of tax from the various commodities. This report is of great
historical importance as it gave broad insight into the then existing  system and the guidelines to be followed to centralise the administration  of Central Excise under the Government of India.

The Madras Salt Department at that time had the administration of land Customs  (and outports). The report had noted that the staff employed by the Madras  Government for the purposes of the administration of the Central Excises was of the lowest grade (the report desired the upgradation of these posts in Madras  Presidency when centrally taken over). Mr. Greenfield, then Collector of Salt  Revenue, Madras, with whom Mr.King had consulted, had informed that  Inspectors in every circle of his jurisdiction except Tuticorin circle are available  to supervise the administration of Central Excises if entrusted to his Department.

 The report had compared the system of assessment and control over sugar and match factories in the various provinces.
The total expenditure of collection of Central Excise was estimated 
    to be about Rs.4,97,000/- per year.
  The then existing cost of collection was found to be highest in Bombay and lowest in Madras.
Consequent to the report, the administration of Central Excise was taken over from the provincial governments by the Madras Salt Department (now under the  control of Government of India) under the Central Board of Revenue. There were  7 Sugar factories and 3 Match factories during the year 1938-39. 

Due to compulsion of War finance, the Government had to mobilize additional  resources and took a bold decision of introducing  excise levy on  un-manufactured tobacco. Survey on feasibility of imposing excise duty on  tobacco was made in 1942. The advent of excise on tobacco led to mass  recruitment of personnel to cover every nook and corner of the country. The  Madras Central Excise Collectorate at that time (1944) covered the whole of then  Madras Presidency Viz., from Vijayanagaram in the North to Kanyakumari in the  South and from Madras in the East to South Canara in the West. The Central  Excises & Salt Act, 1944 also came into existence subsequently.  

Says, Shri C.Chidambaram, Retired Collector of Central Excise, Chennai (1972-1975) "Although the country was then ruled by an alien power, it is to their  eternal credit that the administration was totally assessee-friendly. The principle  adopted was that the procedures should be such that they should be tailored to  meet the requirements of Trade and Industry instead of other way about.  Consequently, the senior officers went round the country to get a feedback  and to find solutions for the practical difficulties of the assessees. Officers of all
grades were also encouraged to come up with suggestions towards the same end. The working conditions were extremely harsh. No Government vehicle was provided at any level. Survey of tobacco fields required intensive visits to villages. However, thanks to the inspirational leadership and the motivation provided no one felt reluctant to undertake the onerous tasks. Sir Harry Greenfield was the architect of tobacco excise Shri. A.N. Sattanathan, ICS, Member Central Board of Revenue prepared a supplement of Tobacco Manual,   which was adopted for the rest of the country. Likewise, the procedures for 
    Coffee and Betel nut excise.

Preventive activities centered around Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam and the number of excisable commodities were much less. Tobacco, Matches and Cement were the main revenue yielding commodities in 1960s and thereafter every year few more items were added. Initially there was physical control with Central Excise Officers, mostly Inspectors posted to factories. In case of less revenue yielding units like Match factories, Sub-Inspectors were posted".
The scale of pay of an Inspector in 1950 was Rs. 80-Prob.-100-5-120-8-200 (as compared to the present Rs.5500 9000 grade). The daily allowance on tour was 15 Annas for a place 8 miles beyond head-quarters.

Since then much water has flown under the bridge. The cadres have been rationalised. In particular, the grade of Assistant Inspector (in the rest of the country it was known as Deputy Superintendent) was abolished. The Sub-Inspector grade (that did not exit in the South) was also abolished. Other milestones (in common with the rest of the country) were the introduction of Self Removal Procedure (SRP) scheme, subsequent withdrawal of unmanufactured tobacco excise, setting up of separate appeal machinery such as Tribunal, Settlement Commission etc. in order to avoid the impression of prosecutor himself functioning as judge etc.
The Madras Collectorate has been reorganised. Bangalore Collectorate came existence in 1957 and Kerala was placed under newly created Cochin Collectorate with Head Quarters at Cochin in 1960. In 1962 Hyderabad Collectorate was carved out.  Madurai Collectorate was created in 1971. Separate and compact Collectorates at Trichy and Coimbatore within Tamil Nadu were set  up in 1983. Trichy Collectorate also looked after customs work outside the jurisdiction of Madras Custom House. 
Chennai Commissionerates was re-organised on 01.08.1997 into Chennai-I,  Chennai-II and Chennai-III Commissionerate respectively.
Madras Central Excise Collectorate was functioning from No.15, Harington Road,  Chetpet, Madras, in the forties. It moved into its own premises at 121,  Nungambakkam High Road (now Mahatma Gandhi Salai), Chennai during 1958.
The States of Hyderabad, Mysore, had their own excise system. Recruitment  during the earlier period in the forties was purely on educational qualification and  on the basis of performance in the interview. In the sixties, recruitment was made  through nominations received from employment exchanges. The recruitment  system was overhauled with Government setting up Staff Selection Commission  in the eighties, which selected candidates based on written test and interview.